January 16, 2008


Editors: Images pertaining to this release can be downloaded at http://www.mcmaster.ca/museum/2008_Images_for_Press_v1x.htm

Haunting photos of documented mounting fear prior to Holocaust

Hamilton, ON -  An exhibit of haunting photographs taken in the years leading up to the Holocaust opens next week at McMaster University’s Museum of Art. It is the first time the collection has been shown in Canada.

Roman Vishniac: A Vanished World chronicles life in the Jewish villages and ghettos of central and Eastern Europe between 1935 and 1939. The Russian-born Vishniac, a biologist, took up photography as an extension of his scientific studies. In the mid 1930s he travelled to Eastern Europe on behalf of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. His assignment was to document the impact of increasingly the harsh economic and professional restrictions being placed on Jews. The photos were to be used by the Committee in their fundraising efforts.

“The photographs are both breathtaking and heartbreaking,” says Carol Podedworny, director and curator of the McMaster Museum of Art. “Vishniac brings a photojournalist’s eye to documenting this period of recent history. In their starkness and their routine portrayal we see a culture on the brink of catastrophe. It is a reminder to all of us of the importance of human rights.”

Vishniac is known to have taken more than 2,000 photographs of men, women and children at work in the fields and knitting factories, leaving the synagogue after prayers, selling their wares on the streets of Warsaw, in hiding, or engaged in worried conversation with friends about the imminent danger ahead.

In 1940, when Vishniac and his family fled Europe for the United States, he was certain that his photos would stir to action the senior government officials he intended to approach. His pleas were met with unanimous indifference.

About 70 photographs, on loan from the International Centre of Photography in New York City, comprise the collection, which until now have never been shown in Canada. The exhibit coincides with the United Nations Day of Holocaust Remembrance (January 27).

For Podedworny, the collection offers a unique education opportunity. She is making the exhibit the focus of the Museum’s educational programming with local school boards, and also sees the academic richness and appeal to a number of disciplines across campus: Peace Studies, History, Globalization, and Art History.

 “We first learned about the collection from a member of our community here in Hamilton, Madeleine Levy, and that conversation prompted us to contact ICP in New York, who have been wonderful in helping us realize this tremendous opportunity.”

The exhibit, which runs from January 17 to March 1, will have special viewing hours as follows: Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 12:30 to 5:00 p.m.; Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Saturday from noon to 5:00 pm. Weekday mornings will be set aside for school tours.

For further information please visit the McMaster Museum of Art’s website at www.mcmaster.ca/museum

McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 130,000 in 128 countries.


For more information, please contact:

Jane Christmas

Manager, Public & Media Relations

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988


Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager: Broadcast Media

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869