The Witnesses

One UT professor’s mission to photograph some of the last living survivors of the Holocaust has become a race against time.

The Witnesses

Above: While Andula Lorencova’s father was away trying to secure a safe haven for their family in China, she was imprisoned with her brother and mother at Terezin. The family was reunited after the war. June 2012

For the past two years, Dennis Darling, a photographer and professor in UT’s School of Journalism, has attended an annual conference of survivors of the Nazi camp Terezin in the Czech Republic. Last year, nearly a third of the people who attended the conference the year before had passed away. As we move further in time from the end of World War II, there are fewer and fewer children of the war still alive today. Darling is now deep into a project called Families Gone to Ash, a series of portraits of Terezin survivors that he hopes will document the “flesh-and-blood reminder of what came before.”

Terezin was used by the Nazis from 1941-45 and classified as a transit camp, a kind of way station where inmates were collected to be routed elsewhere. Most of its prisoners were Jews from Bohemia and Moravia—many of them artists and prominent members of their communities—who were sent there after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. Originally conceived as a kind of show camp to appease the Red Cross and Danish government, Terezin was very different from camps like Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Though living conditions were deplorable and overcrowded, prisoners were permitted to intermingle with their families, send letters to the outside world, and create and perform art.

But Darling points out that “death was far from a stranger at Terezin.” The Nazis forced a council of elder Jews to choose who boarded the transports for death camps. Of the 144,000 prisoners who came through the camp, more than 30,000 died at Terezin, and 88,000 were sent to death camps like Auschwitz. Where exactly these prisoners were going and the horrors that awaited them was unknown to most of those left behind. “Everything went east,” Darling says, “but nothing came back west.”

Some of Terezin’s youngest prisoners managed to escape that fate. But as these photographs remind us, memories of the darkest chapter in human history would haunt their lives forever.

Toman Brod 12

Toman Brod stands in a building in the Bubny rail yard in Prague, where he and his family boarded the transport to Terezin. His family perished at Auschwitz. Brod is now a well-respected author and historian who has written books about Nazi policy and the Czech resistance movement. June 2012

Doris Grozdanovicova  9.25

Doris Grozdanovicova stands on the grounds of the Terezin Hospital where her mother died. Her father and brother were later sent to Auschwitz. Although her brother managed to beat the odds and survive, her father did not. June 2012

Pavel 5.5

Hugo Pavel displays photographs of his family before the war. His younger brother, Ota, who was not sent to Terezin, became a well-known Czech author. July 2013

Terezin Hron 5.5

Hanus Hron returns after 70 years to the Sudeten Barrack where he was first held at Terezin. July 2013

leeds 5.5

Arek Hersh was 11 years old when he was confined at the Otoschno concentration camp. From there he was sent to the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz and survived a winter death march to Buchenwald. He was finally transported to Terezin where he was liberated during the last days of the war. September 2013

Alice Sommer 9.5

Alice Herz-Sommer, 109, is the world’s oldest-living Holocaust survivor. Deported to Terezin with her husband and 6-year-old son when she was 39, the accomplished pianist played more than 100 concerts for both the inmates and her Nazi captors during her internment. She has lived in London since 1986. February 2012

Hanna Zentnerova 5.5

Hanna Zentnerova returns to the former Terezin riding school where, as a teenage prisoner, she built coffins at the woodworking shop housed in the structure. Her family members were transported from Terezin to Auschwitz, where they perished in the gas chambers. July 2012

Isidor Schindelheim, 12

Isidor Schindelheim was a teenage Polish Jew who escaped to neutral Denmark. A year later he was captured by the Germans and transported to Terezin. There, he tended cattle until his release was negotiated by the Danish government. His parents and only brother decided against going north to Denmark with him and were murdered by the Nazis in Poland. He moved to Texas from New York City in 2010 to be closer to his daughter. September 2012

Sisters 9.25

Sisters Eva (left) and Hana Sachselova survived not only Terezin, but also Auschwitz, a death march, and finally Bergen-Belsen. Eva credits her sister’s striking beauty with saving her life. During the Auschwitz selection process that determined who would live or die,  the “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele’s attention was momentarily fixed on her attractive 19-year-old sister. This allowed 14-year-old Eva to slip between her mother and sister and into the line for adults deemed fit to work. The second line, to which all children were directed, ended inside the gas chambers at Auschwitz. July 2013

Carl D 5.5

Carl Dubovy looks out at the Hamburg Barracks courtyard where he, along with his mother and sister, was processed after arriving at Terezin nearly 70 years ago. Late in 1944, his family was separated. His father and older brother became slave laborers in Germany, while Carl, his mother, and sister were deported for extermination to Auschwitz. For unknown reasons, once their transport of 900 prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, it sat for eight hours and then was unexpectedly rerouted to Terezin. All members of his immediate family survived the war and were reunited in their Moravian hometown in May 1945. September 2013

Photographed by Dennis Darling.


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