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Roman Vishniac Archive Now Available Online

Digitized archive features iconic images of pre-war Jewish life in Europe

by
Stephanie Butnick
August 28, 2014
Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht photographed with their family in Hamburg. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Karen Komar)

Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht photographed with their family in Hamburg. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Karen Komar)

Roman Vishniac’s photographs are some of the most well-known images of pre-war Jewish life in Europe. Now, an extensive archive of his six decades of work is available online, the fruits of a partnership between the International Center for Photography, which holds the Vishniac archive, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

According to a statement from the Museum, the digitized archive includes all of Vishniac’s 9,000 negatives—most of which have never before been printed or published.

“Our shared goal is to make the images available for further identification and research, deepening our knowledge of Vishniac’s work and the people and places he recorded in his images,” Mark Lubell, ICP’s executive director, said in the statement.

“This project will introduce many people to one of the 20th century’s preeminent photographers while greatly increasing our understanding of his subjects,” Michael Grunberger, director of collections at the Museum.

Vishniac’s legacy looms large in the Jewish cultural canon, and not for entirely the right reasons. As Tablet’s editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse wrote in the New York Times Magazine in 2010, many of Vishniac’s photographs of pre-war shtetl poverty—and the captions that accompany them—are misleading without their wider context, much of which has only recently been uncovered, thanks to the work of the ICP’s Maya Benton.

That’s why the collaboration is so exciting. It combines the ICP’s vast archival material with the museum’s resources, adding information and context to the photographs. The image pictured above, for example, includes Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht, three sisters famously featured in a Vishniac photograph from 1941. But this photo, which wasn’t taken by Vishniac, is from the museum’s own collection and shows the girls with their family in Hamburg before they left for the United States in 1941. On the far left is the girls’ father, who was unable to leave with the rest of the family and died in the Minsk ghetto.

You can view the archive here.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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