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Bill Aron’s “The Indestructible Spirit”

January 27th, International Holocaust Memorial Day, marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. 

The Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilization, and genocide must still be resisted every day. Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable and we cannot be complacent. Anti-Semitism must be challenged by us all.

In 2004, The Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University commissioned photographer Bill Aron to produce for their library 100 portraits of Holocaust Survivors in Southern California, entitled Holocaust Survivors: The Indestructible Spirit.

Here are three of his portraits; click on the images to enlarge:

I worked for the Resistance in Holland.  We worked in groups of three.  My groups main responsibility was keeping about 120 children safe, by moving them around and getting supplies to them. 
My two comrades were not Jewish but nevertheless worked for the children as hard as I did.  After the war, I had them recognized as Righteous Amongst the Nations in Israel    
“We have tried not to live in the past, only to remember it.  Both my husband and I never knew what growing up meant.  What it was like to be a teenager and not to have to worry about beatings, ovens and gas chambers, death and the fight to live.  So we gave our children the dearest gift, and the only gift we had, the gift of love and the will to survive no matter what the obstacles.”
When I (Bill Aron) asked the family about their laughter throughout the photography session, the children remarked that while growing up, they knew only love from their parents.
 Lou: When I arrived in Auschwitz, I was tattooed with the number: 77,019. I had been told, though, that there were only 19,000 people in the camp. I asked one the civilian guards. Why such high number? He replied: You will find out when you take a shower.
 Was their any Kindness? when I worked in the coal mines, a civilian who liked me gave me piece of bread and a piece liverwurst.
 Why did you survive?:  Who knows. A miracle, will of life, whatever you want to call it. We became dehumanized but never forgot our humanity.

Photographer’s Statement:

Without exception, the experience of meeting with and photographing these survivors is one which moved me to my core. I learned about their singular courage and steadfast determination to stay alive; I learned about their ability to deny death any sort of victory even though the prospect and possibility was ever present; I learned about their absolute faith, whether it was one in a higher power or simply their faith in themselves; whether it was a faith in God, in luck or in the possibility of a future – a strong faith that sustained

them through one of the darkest times in human history; I learned what it means to struggle and to survive and to remain a human being.

The prophet Zechariah proclaims that the people of Israel will prevail “not by might, nor by power, but by spirit alone … will you survive.” Clearly, it was not by might, nor by power that they prevailed, but by the strength of their enduring spirit.

About Bill Aron:

From my first images of the Lower East Side of New York in 1974, I have never wavered from my commitment to depict Jewish Life in America and in Israel. I have therefore come to be known as the “Dean” of American Jewish photographers.

I first gained international recognition for my photographs of Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Jerusalem, New York and Los Angeles. A book highlighting these works, From the Corners of the Earth, was published, with an introduction by Chaim Potok, by The Jewish Publication Society. A small selection of this work can be seen online at From the Corners of the Earth.

My next project immersed me in Jewish life in the deep south of this country: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Shalom Y’all: Images of Jewish Life in the American South, was published, with an introduction by Alfred Uhry, by Algonquin Books. Please see the Shalom Y’All web page more details.

In 2004, The Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University commissioned me to produce for their library 100 portraits of Holocaust Survivors in Southern California, entitled Holocaust Survivors: The Indestructible Spirit.

My most recent exhibition, panoramas of urban life in Israel, involved stitching together as many as 20 images into one photograph. These photographs have thus far been exhibited at the Art Center in Herzliya, Israel, in December of 2011, the Pucker Gallery in Boston in the spring, 2012, and the 92nd Street Y in New York City in the fall of 2012. The catalog for this exhibition can be viewed online at the Pucker Gallery.

For my newest project, I deviated from Jewish themes to interview and photograph cancer survivors whose diagnosis has turned into a positive force. New Beginnings: Surviving Cancer – 100 Stories.

For most of my career, since 1976, the Pucker Gallery in Boston has represented my photography.

View Aron’s website here:

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