Between 1935 and 1938 the celebrated photographer Roman Vishniac explored the cities and villages of Eastern Europe, capturing life in the Jewish shtetlekh of Poland, Romania, Russia, and Hungary, communities that even then seemed threatened—not by destruction and extermination, which no one foresaw, but by change. Using a hidden camera and under difficult circumstances, Vishniac was able to take over sixteen thousand photographs; most were left with his father in a village in France for the duration of the war. With the publication of Children of a Vanished World, seventy of those photographs are available, thirty-six for the first time. The book is devoted to a subject Vishniac especially loved, and one whose mystery and spontaneity he captured with particular poignancy: children.
Selected and edited by the photographer's daughter, Mara Vishniac Kohn, and translator and coeditor Miriam Hartman Flacks, these images show children playing, children studying, children in the midst of a world that was about to disappear. They capture the daily life of their subjects, at once ordinary and extraordinary. The photographs are accompanied by a selection of nursery rhymes, songs, poems, and chants for children's games in both Yiddish and English translation. Thanks to Vishniac's visual artistry and the editors' choice of traditional Yiddish verses, a part of this wonderful culture can be preserved for future generations.
Earlier books of Roman Vishniac's photographs include To Give Them Light: The Legacy of Roman Vishniac (1995), A Vanished World (1983), and Polish Jews (1947).
A major exhibition titled "Children of a Vanished World: Photographs byRoman Vishniac" is scheduled at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. The show will open to the public on March 7 and run through June 4, 2000.
Mara Vishniac Kohn is an educational therapist who has spent most of her professional life in private special education. Miriam Hartman Flacks, a Brooklyn-born native Yiddish speaker, seeks to preserve the rich tradition of Yiddish folksongs.
"Vishniac came back from his trips to Eastern Europe in the 1930s with a collection of photographs that has become an important historical document, for it gives a last-minute look at the human beings he photographed just before the fury of Nazi brutality exterminated them. Vishniac took with him on this self-imposed assignment—besides this or that kind of camera and film—a rare depth of understanding and a native son's warmth and love for his people. The resulting photographs are among photography's finest documents of a time and place."—Edward Steichen
"Not to forget, not to allow oblivion to defeat memory: That is his obsession. Defying all dangers, surmounting all obstacles, he travels from province to province, from village to village, capturing slums and markets, a gesture here, a movement there, reflections of hope and despair, so that the victims will not wholly vanish into the abyss—so that they will live on, past torture and past massacre. And he has won the wager: They live still."—Elie Wiesel