by Becky Seitel, photographer
In early 2005, my husband Alan and I were looking for a community project that would share our common interests. Alan is Jewish, I am Christian, and before we married, we committed to being supportive of each other’s religion. But since we didn’t worship together, we felt a desire to do something as a couple that would allow us to share a mutually rewarding experience outside traditional spiritual settings.
I had recently re-discovered photography, so right away we had our method, but we talked for months about the message. We discussed current issues: breast cancer, AIDS, homelessness, and organ donation since Alan’s son had recently undergone a successful liver transplant. But when we attended a local Holocaust Memorial Service and heard the first-hand accounts of the Holocaust, our message became clear. I had never met a Holocaust survivor, and had certainly never heard a first-hand account of that horrible time in history. I realized our grandchildren would be unlikely to hear these personal stories since many survivors were now in their 80’s and 90’s. As we walked to the car in stunned silence, I looked at Alan and said, “I think we found our project.”
Additional weeks of discussion followed. Alan felt that we had to do something different from other Holocaust exhibits. We talked about the photographs we would shoot, how many (perhaps ten, we thought), where we would exhibit, but we knew there was something missing in our plan. During this time, we attended an art exhibit by Mitzi J. Levin. Mitzi, too, is Christian, and married to a Jewish husband. We had discovered the missing piece. We invited Mitzi to join us and paint the memories of the survivors: their childhood, imprisonment or hiding, and liberation. My photographs would capture them in the present and the result would be the stories of the lives of Birmingham’s Holocaust survivors – how they prevented Hitler from winning by living happy, successful lives, how they traveled from Darkness into Life.
Our initial exhibit at Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center on April 1, 2007, drew 1,700 people on opening day. Staff members from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute visited the exhibit and invited us to show at the Institute. They also asked us to expand the exhibit to include all of Alabama.
The idea of ten photographs grew into a 78-piece exhibit featuring the stories of 20 Holocaust survivors from throughout Alabama. Created to educate, the exhibit was donated to the Alabama Holocaust Education Center to help teach students about the Holocaust, genocide, and bigotry. And most importantly, to join together and say “Never Again!”
In August 2012, a more portable, travel-friendly version of the exhibit was created to provide greater outreach.