Humans of the Holocaust: Telling Their Stories With Optimism

A new way must be found to present the Holocaust before it is forgotten entirely

By Yossi Aloni |
Photo: Erez Kanovich

A Holocaust survivor embracing a large, yellow balloon with a Star of David and the inscription JUDE. A woman who survived the Holocaust and converted to Islam and now lives in the Israeli Muslim town of Umm el-Fahm. Another who managed to live through the horrors and whose grandchildren tattooed his number on their forearms.

These are just a few examples from a new project called “Humans of the Holocaust” produced by photographer Erez Kanovich. The exhibition is being published on social networks (Facebook, Instagram) to bring the younger generation in Israel and around the world the story of Holocaust survivors in a more humane and optimistic way.  The idea is to help the millennial generation connect to the human story of Holocaust survivors.

Kanovich was horrified when a recent survey concluded that 50% of millennials born in the United States have never heard of Auschwitz, and 66% could not name even one concentration camp or ghetto. “With this lack of knowledge, antisemitism is raising its head around the world,” he said. “From Europe to the US, we are exposed to antisemites and their violence, including the massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue, the terrorist attack at the synagogue California and the latest tragedy in the Halle, Germany.” 

In the past year, there have been more than 2,000 antisemitic attacks throughout the United States, and more than a third of US Jews are afraid to go out wearing Jewish symbols like a kippa in public. In Germany, 59% of voters believe that antisemitism is on the rise in their country, and about a quarter of German citizens still hold antisemitic opinions.

“Following this data, I decided to initiate a project that would tell the story of the Holocaust survivors from a personal and optimistic perspective,” Kanovich continued. “I think that by presenting the human story behind the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust we will be able to get the young generation interested and learn about the danger of a renewed rise in antisemitism,” he said.

Alongside Kanovich’s photographs of Holocaust survivors in unique settings, the story of each is told in Hebrew and English. Next year, the exhibition will be shown in Pittsburgh, and will be presented as part of the struggle of the Jewish community against rising antisemitism.  “I intend for the project to be a traveling exhibition that will come to many campuses, public schools, mosques, churches and any place willing to allow us to show this important project,” he added.

“When you think of projects to commemorate the Holocaust, they are usually melancholy and presented in black and white,” he continued. “The new project I created is optimistic, colorful and inspiring. Through the human tales, unusual pictures, and universal messages, I reconnect the millennial generation to the Holocaust,” he said.

Among the exhibition’s subjects:

Ya’akov Diamant’s grandchildren.

The grandchildren of the Holocaust survivor Ya’akov Diamant, who had the number with which the Nazis branded their grandfather tattooed on their own arms. “When your children see my number from the Holocaust on your arm, will you tell them about me?” Diamant asked his grandchildren. 


Eva Kor, who died just a few months ago during an educational campaign in Poland, was a Holocaust survivor and one of Mengele’s victims. Two years ago her interview with Bazaar went viral and was watched by over 120 million people from around the world. She tells of the power in forgiveness and how her decision to forgive helped her to cope with the pain she experienced in the Holocaust.

Dugo Leitner, a survivor of Auschwitz, tells how a sense of humor saved him in the Holocaust, is photographed with a yellow patch-shaped balloon. “Even the darkest place in the world can find a sense of humor. Israel lives! Israel is alive and well! Israel is alive and well and happy!” he says.


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