NASHVILLE, TENN.- This exhibition consists of 44 photographs and texts that document the lives and stories of Tennesseans who survived the Holocaust or who, as soldiers, liberated Jews held in concentration camps at the end of World War II. On view in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts’ Conte Community Arts Gallery February 25 – April 24, 2005, the works were created by Robert Heller, an associate professor in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Tennessee, and writer Dawn Weiss Smith. Together, Heller and Smith traveled the state, interviewing and photographing people from Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.
According to Mark Scala, exhibitions curator at the Frist Center, “the photographs in Living On are extraordinary, both in their expression of a sense of shared humanity and their quiet elegance. The text conveys powerfully moving stories of atrocities and survival through first person interviews, while the photographs show people who have risen above the darkest aspects of human behavior.”
The narratives tell of sacrifice, unimaginable suffering, and, at times, kindnesses that meant the difference between life and death. Ethel Berger of Chattanooga speaks of the murder of her parents and son, and of having her best friend shut the door in her face while she and her family were on the run from the Nazis. Memphis resident Sam Weinreich survived concentration camps both at Auschwitz and Dachau by singing for Nazi doctors to earn an extra piece of bread. “I would sing a particular song,” he remembers, “that would always make this one Nazi cry.” Liberator Harry Snodgrass, from Johnson City, Tennessee, still remembers with horror his experience upon entering the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Today he speaks to schools and gatherings about what he saw as a liberator. He stresses the danger of racial and religious divisiveness: “I tell them what I have known all my life…for evil to exist it just takes good people to do nothing.”
Living On: Portraits of Tennessee Survivors and Liberators was organized and funded in part by the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. The guest curator of the exhibition is Susan Knowles, an independent scholar, art critic, and curator living in Pikeville, Tennessee. The exhibition at the Frist Center is sponsored in part by the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission.