New photographic exhibition

October 15, 2010 Agencies
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The Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne is hosting “Marked”,a new photographic exhibition featuring Andrew Harris’s images of Holocaust survivors and their tattoos.

A highlight of a visit to the Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) is the opportunity to interact with Holocaust survivors, eyewitnesses to history. Most poignant is when the survivors who were tattooed roll up their sleeves and show visitors their permanent marker – the tattoo from Auschwitz.

Not all survivors have tattoos. Tattooing was done at Auschwitz but only to prisoners who were ‘selected’ to be slaves rather than gassed. As the late survivor Lou Sokolow, who was a tattooist in Auschwitz, reports in his video testimony,

‘A guy who got a number was lucky. Why? Because he didn’t go straight away to the crematoria.’

Most survivors who were branded by the Nazis like cattle do not see it as a badge of shame. On the contrary, they feel that it demonstrates the inhumanity of the Nazi perpetrators.

Andrew Harris sensitively photographed 11 survivors who volunteer as museum guides at the JHC. He shows the survivors as they are, going about their lives, living with their painful memories, and bearing a mark on their arms. A powerful soundscape of survivors talking about their tattoos enhances the display. Andrew Harris reflects:

This project was a privilege. The survivor’s tattoo is the tangible signifier to the observer of the bearer’s history, and proof of their experience. The tattoo has always been a prompt for personal questions. In the case of the survivor guides at the JHC, the response is always generous, open and comes from a willingness to share intensely private trauma for the betterment of the observer and the world at large. In regularly retelling the story of their tattoo, the survivor uses a complex touchstone to show the observer their inner-life and bridge the divide between their lost world and an uncertain future.

Sponsored by the ‘Friends of the Jewish Holocaust Centre’, the exhibition includes a history of the tattoo process, written by Dr Gideon Greif, historian of the Holocaust, who has conducted an extensive study of the Nazi methodology of tattooing.

The exhibition will be open to the public during the JHC’s regular opening hours.

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