Through the lens of faith - a temporary exhibition at the entrance to the Auschwitz Memorial


The exhibition "Through the Lens of Faith - Przez pryzmat wiary", prepared by the Amud Aish Memorial Museum in New York and designed by Daniel Libeskind, was opened on July 1, in front of the main entrance to the Auschwitz Museum.


It consists of 21 portraits of Auschwitz survivors: Jews, Poles and the Roma. The author of the photographs is Caryl Englander. The photographs are accompanied by fragments of accounts by the survivors related to the subject of faith in the tragic world of the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. The artist showed the people at homes and in their private surroundings. Several of those portrayed, look directly into the lens – often revealing the camp number tattooed on the forearm.

'The unique exhibition speaks of the humanity of the victims. After all, Auschwitz was not only a place of physical destruction of people. It was also a place of mental and spiritual destruction for many prisoners. Until now, this perspective has never been addressed by an exhibition at the Memorial. I want to thank everyone who contributed to its creation,' said Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Museum, during the opening ceremony.

'The exhibition is presented at a unique moment, due to the commemorated anniversaries. We are approaching the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. However, we are now in the period of the 75th anniversary of the most devastating time in the history of the camp  the period of deportation of Jews from Hungary; deportation from the liquidated Litzmannstadt ghetto; deportation of civilians from Warsaw during the Uprising; and many other places in Europe, still occupied by Germany. I hope that our visitors will closely observe these photographs, look into the eyes of the survivors and understand their words," said Director Cywiński.

The curator of the exhibition is Dr. Henri Lustiger Thaler. 'Through the Lens of Faith is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. Survivors imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau drew on their most profound beliefs systems in the cruelest place on earth. Daniel Libeskind’s design captures the past, present and future of survivor experiences and memories in conversation with Caryl Englander’s moving portraits" said Henri Lustiger Thaler.

The design of the exhibition space was prepared by Daniel Libeskind and Studio Libeskind. He designed a path with three metres of vertical steel panels on both sides. They are arranged in a pattern resembling striped camp uniforms, evoking associations with imprisonment, while their exterior mirror surfaces reflect the surrounding landscape. 'This exhibition brings the stories of the survivors into focus, while weaving their intimate accounts into the context of the camp and contemporary life. We can’t understand the millions that were murdered in the Holocaust, but we can understand one person’s story" said Daniel Libeskind.

Each panel of the exhibition has a cavity with the portrait of the character. In front of it, fragments of their accounts have been engraved on black glass.

“I was seventeen years old. We were taken to Buna, Monowitz, a working sub camp of Auschwitz. My brother became ill and was sent to the notorious camp hospital. I was also ill and placed in the hospital. There was a selection soon thereafter. My brother was taken to be killed. I use that selection day when he was removed from his bed, as his yahrzeit, commemorative death date. At night, in the barracks, we were 8 people in one bed. When one moved, everyone had to moge ion the same direction to keep covered. Like this we davened (prayed). No prayer book. Nothing. In the cold" - Yitzchok Baruch Schachter, a Polish Jew.

“I was seventeen years old when I met Tadeusz Paolone-Lisowski in Birkenau. The last time I saw him, he asked me: “do you believe in God? Because, as you know many people think that if something like Auschwitz is possible...”. He didn't finish. I remember my mother's words at that moment: "if there is eveil in the world, it comes from Satan, not God.". Tadeusz said: "on the pages of the account book is a small metal object for you, a medallion. Take it as a souvenir of me. May it protect you. Look after it, and if God lets you, take it to freedom.” - a Polish woman, Zofia Posmysz, a Christian.

“I was four years old. I remember sleeping on my mother's knees. I sensed bread crumbs under my cheek. I felt safe. My father was brutally punished for giving a Jewish woman a potato. She prayed for him." - Peter Hollenreiner, a Roma prisoner from Germany, a Christian.

“I was fifteen years old. I prayed to God in the selection line to keep my parents alive. I velieved I could not survive withouth them. Upn entry, men and women were separated, the young and old too. I ran quickly to be with my mother. She pushed my back firmly. Her last words were: “take care of your sister, so she will survive. Marry a religious man. God will save you, and you will tell the world what happened to us”. My mother said I had the courage to survive Auschwitz and must do so. Those words kept me alive." - Esther Peterseil, a Jewish woman from Poland.

'The project asks an often thought of question, but never so purposefully explored in visual and discursive terms: How did a largely religious population maintain their sense of identity and culture in a Deathworld, called Auschwitz? This place was structured to disarm any form of dignity and resistance. My work is a visual testament to the absolute endurance of human courage. With each person I had the privilege to meet, I felt their resilience, their hope and their joy for life,” said the photographer, Caryl Englander.

The exhibition “Through the lens of faith” is on display at the entrance to the Auschwitz Memorial until 30 September 2020.