The people in Doris Levin’s photographs may not speak, but their eyes tell their stories.
Many of these Jewish survivors in Lithuania and Belarus lost families, friends, livelihoods, and homes in the Holocaust, and you can see that in these vivid, poignant pictures.
Levin’s inspiration came from Dovid Katz, a major force in the movement to keep Yiddish alive and a professor of Yiddish language, literature, and culture at Vilnius University, Lithuania. He told Levin about the survivors who lived there and encouraged her to visit.
Doris Levin is pictured with one of her photographs of elderly Jewish survivors in Eastern Europe, now on exhibit at the JCC on the Palidsades. Photo by Natalie Draisin
Levin was able to record her subjects’ stories with the help of Katz’s translator and driver. "It was hard to communicate," she said in an interview at the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly on Sunday, at the opening of "Forgotten Survivors: The Elderly Jews of Eastern Europe," an exhibit of 14 of her photographs. "We didn’t speak the same language, but I felt a connection to them because they are my heritage my parents were from the same area."
Most of the people in the photographs are not smiling. Their pasts have left deep wrinkles and scars on their faces, as well as evidence of suffering in their eyes. One woman, Dora, is an exception. Her smile radiates satisfaction, joviality, and pride. But in another picture, her expression is dour.
"She was very vain, she got dressed up and wore lipstick. At first, we got pictures like this one, where she’s smiling," Levin explained. "When we started to get real with her, we got this," she said, gesturing to the second photograph. "Dora is very poor; she has no running water. She didn’t even have a fridge, because it had broken six months ago, so I left her some money to buy a new one."
Levin has devoted herself to taking pictures of elderly Jews to keep their stories and spirits alive. She is starting a new project documenting the lives of Jewish World War II veterans. Her exhibition will be at the JCC until April ‘6.
Levin invites those who are interested in making a contribution to help the survivors, to e-mail her at email@example.com.