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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

Family Images Of Holocaust Survivors Exhibited Exclusively In Jacksonville

Courtesy of Vardi Kahana

A powerful photography exhibit focused on several members of one family who survived the Holocaust is being shown exclusively in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville is the only city in the country scheduled to show One Family: Photographs by Vardi Kahana. The exhibit opened at the Cummer Art Museum Saturday, Jan. 25.

Melissa Ross spoke with photographer Vardi Kahana and museum curator Holly Keris about the photos.

Two of Kahana’s photographs were showcased at the museum at the collector’s choice exhibition in 2010 and received very strong feedback.

“Her two photographs were consistently commented on by our visitors as being some of the most powerful images in that entire exhibition,” said Keris. “After hearing that feedback, it inspired us to bring the larger series to Jacksonville.”

The photographs tell the story of Kahana’s family, who were sent to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1944, including her mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins and several others. 

Many of Kahana’s family died at the camp. Both of her parents and her mother’s two sisters survived and immigrated to Israel.

“The key image for this exhibition is a photograph of my mother and her two sisters, and they have consecutive numbers on their arms,” she said. “It means that they were lined up in this order in 1944 in Auschwitz when they were tattooed.”

Kahana wanted to portray the enormity of the Holocaust through the rebirth of her family after they immigrated to Israel.

“We are telling a bigger story than just our immediate family,” Kahana said. “So, I wanted to show the way the branches that came out of the three survivors, out of a huge family, portray an updated portrait of Israel today.”

Now her family identifies across the spectrum of Judiasm and Israeli culture, from the ultra-Orthodox to kibbutz members.

Kahana was compelled to document her family’s journey and to show their importance to the future of Israeli families.

“They were survivors. As the second generation, we looked to them and copied that behavior. In the third, fourth and fifth generation, everyone is getting that part,” she said.

“This is the way we grow and become a family.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, the documentary film “Daughter of the Holocaust” by Irene Jaffa will be shown in its entirety on WJCT More! (digital 7.4, Comcast 212) Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 8 p.m.

An edited version of the film, which tells the story of the traumatic impact felt by Holocaust survivors and their children through their own eyes, is also being screened at the Cummer Museum during the exhibit.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Emily Long at @EMchanted_.