10 May 2008

Children of a vanished world

Roman Vishniac took thousands of photographs of shtetls and cities in Eastern Europe and their Jewish residents from 1935-1938.

Fifty of them will be on view in the "Children of a Vanished World" traveling exhibit at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, through August 31. The exhibit is curated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Vishniac was on assignment for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to photograph poor Jews for a fund-raising effort.

He captured images of traditional Jewish life, children were a favorite topic, and all of this photographed before their world would change so dramatically.

As conditions deteriorated in Germany, Vishniac made plans to safeguard the photos. Some 2,000 negatives reached the US with the help of friends.

In May 1939, his daughter, Mara, was sent to Sweden where her mother and brother later joined her. During that time, Vishniac was in France and was detained in an internment camp for several months. Reunited in Lisbon, the family arrived in the US in 1940.

The pictures were published in the book "Children of a Vanished World" (University of California Press, 1999), which included Yiddish nursery rhyme translations, songs, poems and children’s games. It was co-edited by Vishniac's daughter, Mara Vishniac Kohn, and Miriam Hartman Flacks nine years after his death at 92 in New York City.

For more information, see the link above.

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