The Santa Barbara Jewish Federation, in collaboration with UCSB, will open a permanent exhibition to honor Holocaust survivors and refugees in Santa Barbara.
The exhibit, titled “Portraits of Survival: Life Journeys During the Holocaust and Beyond,” will be unveiled Nov. 9 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the federation’s headquarters at 524 Chapala St. in downtown Santa Barbara. Community members, university faculty, students and survivors gathered Thursday night in the McCune Conference Room on the sixth floor of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building to talk about the installation of the exhibit. The curators, Leib Kopman and Carla Rose Shapiro, were also present at the meeting. Shapiro interviewed Holocaust survivors living in Santa Barbara, and she said this exhibit is unlike others because it allows the viewer to open up each of the portraits, like a book, so they may go through the exhibit at their own pace.
“The exhibit has three primary functions: First, to honor the lives of those surviving in Santa Barbara,” Shapiro said. “Second, it has to serve as a base for education programs, and finally, it has to stand alone as an aesthetically engaging photography exhibition.”
Shapiro said the exhibit is both historical and autobiographical, and attempts to create an interest in history through an empathetic connection between viewer and survivor.
Various media of remembrance such as portraits, written oral history, documentary and photography and memorabilia will be on display.
“There are many different kinds of things that this will teach us, the viewer, and really expand our world by sharing our experiences,” said Mara Kohn, a member of the Santa Barbara Jewish Community Center.
Shapiro said she tried to leave the authorship to the participants by shaping the testimony as little as possible during interviews. Some of the people interviewed said it was difficult for them to tell their story.
“I was, at first, scared. But eventually, with their presence, I felt so welcome that anyone would have wanted to listen,” Holocaust refugee Erika Kahn said.
Shapiro said condensing painful memories to 600 words or less was a challenge and has its limitations.
“What’s not captured is the silences, the pain, the hesitation, the recollection or the search for the right language, but the tradeoff is that one is able to reread or relook at a particular image or text,” Shapiro said.
Kopman, who photographed the participants, said he considers this project an intellectual and artistic challenge.
“I presented a concept instead of just studio photography,” Kopman said. “I wanted to go to each person’s location – whether it be their home, business, where they like to hang out – something that would be meaningful to them and speak about their life.”
Kopman and Shapiro, who have a similar exhibit in Toronto titled “We Who Survived,” said they became inspired when they met Judy Cohen, a survivor of the Holocaust who wanted to honor the memories of survivors through a photographic tribute.
The exhibit is free to the public, and the president of the Santa Barbara Jewish Federation said he encourages students to attend.
“Through this endeavor, people will remember what has happened, and this education will prevent it from happening again. Our doors are open to any and all students who want to visit,” Santa Barbara Jewish Federation President Ron Fox said.