When Maurice Gluck was three years old, his family attempted to flee Antwerp but were stopped at the border. It was 1941, the year that marked the beginning of the Holocaust. Maurice’s mother brought him to a man in Brussels, with whom he would remain hidden. His mother and father were taken to concentration camps.
Three years later, he was reunited with his father. A few months passed, and a woman named Helen, introduced to Maurice as his mother, joined them. It wasn’t until his Bar Mitzvah, years down the road, that Helen told Maurice that she was actually his mother’s sister. His mother had died in Auschwitz, one of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. After learning her sister had died, Helen looked for Maurice until she found him.
The morning after his Bar Mitzvah, Maurice told Helen that she had been his mother and always would be. “And so it was,” Gluck told Martin Schoeller decades later in 2020, when the photographer collaborated with Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, to record the faces and stories of 75 Holocaust survivors. The project marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
“Meeting these people is history coming to life,” Schoeller says in a virtual tour of an exhibition that took place at the Ruhr Museum in Essen, Germany. While talking with one of his sitters, Marta Wise, he learned that she had been at Auschwitz-Birkenau when it was liberated on January 27th, 1945. She was only ten years old; her sister, Eva, was thirteen.
At that point, the photographer remembered and pulled up a print-out of a famous picture taken that day by the Soviet photographer Alexander Vorontsov. There are thirteen children in the photograph–thirteen of the 7,000 prisoners. “You’re not in this picture, right?” Schoeller asked Wise. “Yes, we are,” she replied. “That’s my sister, Eva, and that’s me.”
They were there for over three months. “Sounds like little time in Auschwitz, but believe me, every minute was like a lifetime,” she told Schoeller 75 years later. Her portrait and the 74 others are now part of the book, Survivors. Faces of Life after the Holocaust, published by Steidl and with a foreword by former German President Joachim Gauck.
As many of the survivors attest, hatred, racism, and xenophobia remain real and urgent threats to humanity. “It is very scary to see what is happening in Europe right now, that antisemitism has come back so strongly,” Schoeller says. “Now more than ever, I feel a great responsibility to fight antisemitism whenever I see it and to do whatever I can to make sure that something like the Holocaust can never happen again.”
In 2020, when the portraits were exhibited at the Ruhr Museum in Essen, Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel inaugurated the event. More recently, the exhibition moved to Schoeller’s pop-up artist’s space, Projekt 105. “I hope that with this exhibition I will keep the memory and these stories alive,” the artist says.
As Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, writes in the book, we’ll soon live in a world without Survivors. In time, their testimonies will be passed along to us, as will the responsibility of ensuring they’re not forgotten or erased.
75 years ago, many acted with hatred and violence. Countless people showed indifference. But some, like the man who hid a three-year-old Maurice Gluck, all those years ago, risked their lives to protect their neighbors. Helen found her sister’s son and loved him as her own. “In this world, there are good people and bad people,” Gluck told the photographer. “Try to find the good ones.”