Merkel launchs portrait exhibition showing Holocaust survivors

Seventy-five portraits of Holocaust survivors taken by renowned photographer Martin Schoeller went on display in the German city of Essen on Tuesday, with Chancellor Angela Merkel launching the exhibition.

The event, titled “Survivors: Faces of Life after the Holocaust,” features close-up shots by the German-born, New York-based artist, who in the past has photographed Merkel herself, as well as former US president Barack Obama and a raft of celebrities.

The inspiration for the project is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Soviet Red Army. It is taking place at the Zollverein, a former industrial site in the western German city of Essen.

The Nazis and their collaborators murdered around 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.

One of the people featured in the portraits, 87-year-old Naftali Fuerst, was flown in by German government plane from Tel Aviv on Tuesday to attend the official opening of the exhibit.

“It’s unbelievable,” he told dpa on the plane. “The little boy from the death march is now in a German military plane on the way to meet the chancellor.”

Fuerst was incarcerated in four Nazi concentration camps before the end of World War II including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald.

“I am travelling [to Germany] as a representative of those who can no longer speak – because they were murdered or are too old,” he said.

The project, initiated by the German Friends of Yad Vashem, comprises the photo exhibition with an accompanying film and an English-language book containing the 75 portraits.

“Each of the photographs says infinitely more than words,” said Kai Diekmann, the head of the German Friends of Yad Vashem. “The lines on their faces are signs of the horror they experienced and at the same time the triumph of having built a new life.”

A global tour of the show is planned once the exhibition closes in Essen, taking in, among others, Toronto and the Dutch city of Maastricht.

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