Witness the resilience of Holocaust survivors through 'Portraits of Survivors'


Rachel Epstein was hidden by the Ribouleaus, a Christian family, in Saint-Quentin, France.

Evelyn Pike Rubin and her family fled from Breslau, Germany to Shanghai, China. She later published, a book, “Ghetto Shanghai,” detailing her experiences.

Anita Weisbord, of Vienna, Austria, was sent to England on a Kindertransport, and helped the war effort in London, working in a factory, making airplane parts.

Their names, stories and faces are just a small part of a moving exhibit of 18 portraits. Their backgrounds and tales of resilience are unique, and woven into the fabric of time, but they all share one life-altering connection: They are survivors of the Holocaust.

The powerful exhibit “Portraits of Survivors,” photographed by Danny Weiss, a Port Washington-based photographer, and coordinated by Dinah Kramer, arrived at the Merrick Library earlier this month, officially opening to the public at a reception on Nov. 5.

Throughout the community room and part of the library’s entranceway, visitors can not only immerse themselves in the canvas prints of 18 Holocaust survivors, but also get a glimpse of what they experienced, and where they ended up, after World War II.

In 2017, Weiss heard one of the subjects, Irving Roth, speak to a group of 12-year-olds at a pre-bar mitzvah presentation. Roth, a survivor of the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, founded the Adopt-a-Survivor initiative in 1998, which pairs survivors with “adoptee” students.

Kramer, who worked closely with Roth, said he was an “amazing, charismatic speaker.”

“He realized that kids would see the survivors as victims, and not get to know them as human beings,” Kramer said. “He created this program where students would meet survivors for, you know, anywhere from three to five sessions, and get to know their whole story. It’s very different from hearing testimony. He wanted these kids to become the surrogates and carry their stories, because he realized that survivors were going to eventually die off, and there wouldn’t be survivors anymore. It would open the door for Holocaust denial and distortion.”

Both of Kramer’s parents were Holocaust survivors. Her mother, Sara Gole, of Kielce, Poland, survived labor camps and a death march. Her portrait is featured in the exhibit.

Weiss was inspired by Roth’s life’s work to take photos of others just like him. All of his subjects are relatively local, Kramer explained, from Long Island, Queens and other nearby areas.

The exhibit first opened at the Port Washington Public Library in January 2020, with the intent of traveling around the Island. The pandemic halted these plans, but over the past year, the exhibit has begun to be featured again, and arrived in Merrick earlier this month.

Kramer said that Weiss took a variety of photos that captured the personalities of survivors.

“He captured them, you know, laughing and smiling — some of them more solemn, more pensive,” she said. “It was just how it evolved.”

Since the original portraits were taken, 11 of the survivors of have died, including Roth and Kramer’s mother. Those who attend the exhibit, however, can flip through a pamphlet that tells each of their stories.

The mission is to help people see survivors in a different light, Kramer said.

Donna Rosenblum, president of the Merrick Library board and a volunteer educator at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County, in Glen Cove, said that when she was growing up, her Holocaust education focused on the horrors — photos of bodies and skeletons, U.S. troops liberating prisoners.

“The mission is about resilience, hope and rebuilding of life after such tragedy,” Rosenblum said of the portrait exhibit. “The message we want kids to understand is the hope that comes out of a tragedy like this. We need to remember the humanity. These people and their stories need to be understood as individuals.”

Rosenblum said that Holocaust education has changed over the last couple of decades. “That is very important,” she said. “I want the kids to know Irving (Roth) as a person. He had a laugh, love, that his favorite sport was soccer. He’s just like you — those are kinds of connections.”

Under each photo, a name card has brief biographical information about the subject — but more powerfully, Kramer said, it includes a quote.

“Never forget what the world did,” Baruch Gross’s name card reads.

“Material things are only temporary … things of value are friendships and the love of people,” reads Werner Reich’s.

“Education is paramount,” Stanley Ronell wrote, “in attempting to instill tolerance, understanding, respect, and to eradicate hate.”

The Merrick Library will display the portraits through Nov. 30 in the community room. The viewing schedule can be found in the library’s event calendar at MerrickLibrary.org. The library is at 2279 Merrick Ave in Merrick.