26 February 2010

Roman Vishniac: History Through a Camera

an interview by Ellen Wulfman (my mother)
featured in The Star News, 1984

It is late fall. Mrs. Vishniac has retrieved some flowers from the outdoors before the cold weather mercilessly dismissed them. Roman Vishniac first met his wife Edith in 1931 in Berlin. "She is unbelievable. I took one look and fell in love with her. She looked like a saint. She is very unusual. We never had a disagreement in 54 years." With the mention of Edith's name he let loose a deep joyful giggle. Vishniac laughed only once during our meeting.

Every other year Vishniac travels to Germany to visit the gravesite of his grandfather Wolf Vishniac. Taking his key he opens the old rusted gates of the cemetery. Once inside he cleans off the gravesite and cuts back the overgrown foliage; if the tombstone has fallen he repositions it. "Once I am gone no one will come to do this."

Roman Vishniac was born on Aug. 19, 1897 in a small town outside Leningrad. Vishniac's father was a Zionist who organized the first Zionist congress for his friend Theodore Hertzl. Vishniac's mother and father were founders of the early ORT society. As a young medical student Vishniac worked to organize the Jewish community to aid the many thousands of Jews who suffered as a result of the pogroms. There is only one time when Vishniac could remember the Jews of Russia being treated humanely, and that was from March to October of 1917 under the rule of Kerensky. "In Russia the anti-Semitism is the strongest; it is in their blood." Shortly after the Russian Revolution the Vishniac family immigrated to Berlin.

Once in Berlin Vishniac began to record the life of the Jewish communities with his camera.

The Nazis believed Vishniac was a Jewish spy. "For photography I was very often put in prison. If I succeeded by bribery to buy myself free then I could photograph again." Vishniac had covered over 5.000 miles by the time he left Europe in 1941...


Anonymous said...

I love that you reprinted mom's article. Its really lovely. Love you.

Aunt J

jose manuel said...

I read such lovely and lovable post. I respect and salute your views and you said on this post.

Jose Manuel
contemporary photography

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