Russian Jews were in a precarious position in the early 20th Century. Already, the century had brought them cruel social and economic oppression in Tsarist Russia, and then betrayal by the Bolshevik movement to which theyd largely given their sympathies. In the Revolution, Jews were demonized and killed by armies both White and Red, as well as by anarchists and members of virtually every one of the dozens of groups fighting for supremacy before the rise of Lenin.
It was an awareness of, and a keen feeling for, this history that led the Russian Jewish photographer Roman Vishniac to take more than 16,000 photographs of German Jews when he lived in that country in the years immediately before the Holocaust. German anti-Semitism, though beginning to flair in the 1920s, had been on the wane for decades. Vishniac must have had a clearer than average understanding of how fleeting such periods of grace could be. His photographs were a pre-emptive memorial of a people poised between a vanishing history and the abattoir of the future. Only 2,000 have survived, and 12 of those are now on display in Roman Vishniac: Selections from The Vanished World, at the Norton Museum.
The exhibit runs through July 26 at 1451 S. Olive Ave. in West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $8. Visit norton.org, or call 561-832-5196.
March 12-June 26, 2009