Unidentified Photographer, [Roman Vishniac holding his Rolleiflex camera], ca. 1935–38. Photo © Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography.

Unidentified Photographer, [Roman Vishniac holding his Rolleiflex camera], ca. 1935–38. Photo © Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography.

Please see below for a photo slideshow of Roman Vishniac’s work.

(RNS) In 1920, a young Jewish man with a keen eye fled anti-Semitism in his native Russia, arrived in Berlin and began snapping pictures. Roman Vishniac would go on to become one of the 20th century’s great photographers.

But Vishniac has always been appreciated for more than his art; the emigre created a visual record of European Jewish life before the Holocaust, documenting the world of shtetl rabbis, Jewish farmers, and Hebrew school students in his 1983 book “A Vanished World.”

“His photographs of pre-war Jewish life became the iconic face of a world that was destroyed,” said Judith Cohen, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum‘s photographic reference collection.

Now Vishniac’s lifework  — far more than any one book could contain — is open to the world, online. The museum hopes that more eyes on his legacy can help identify the people — many of them murdered by the Nazis — who live on in Vishniac’s images.

On Tuesday (Aug. 26) a partnership between the museum and New York’s International Center of Photography, which owns the Vishniac’s negatives and photographs, launched a new website: http://vishniac.icp.org

The ICP gave the responsibility for digitizing Vishniac’s negatives — most of which had never been published or printed — to Ardon Bar-Hama, who had digitized the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The archive’s more than 9,000 photographs include portraits of the larger culture — nuns, window washers, the Berlin Zoo, train stations, and a dog that doesn’t want to be walked — in addition to Vishniac’s studies of European Jewish life.

Roman Vishniac, [Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo], ca. 1935–38. Photo © Mara Vishniac Kohn. Courtesy International Center of Photography

Roman Vishniac, [Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo], ca. 1935–38. Photo © Mara Vishniac Kohn. Courtesy International Center of Photography

In 1935, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the world’s largest Jewish relief group, asked him to take photographs to help raise money for beleaguered Jews in Eastern Europe, who suffered anti-Semitism and poverty.

When Hitler’s intentions for the Jews became clearer, the relief agency in 1939 sent Vishniac to document Nazism in Western Europe, where Vishniac also worked as a freelancer. So as not to raise suspicion, Cohen said, the photographer would sometimes pose his young daughter in front of Nazi propaganda so it would look as if he was taking a picture of her, as opposed to examples of Nazi depravity.

The ICP and the museum hope the online archive will only increase the likelihood that viewers might identify people they know in Vishniac photographs, and share their stories.

This has happened several times before with Vishniac’s work. Several years ago, for example, a woman walked up to a photograph of a farmer’s smiling, deeply lined face at an exhibition at the Holocaust museum, and saw Chaim Simcha Mechlowitz, her grandfather, who had died in Auschwitz.

Vishniac himself survived the Nazis, though has was arrested and interned in France after the German invasion. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1940, he resumed his career, and became a pioneer of photomicroscopy — photography that uses a microscope to show what the naked eye cannot see.


Click on any photo below to view a slideshow of Roman Vishniac’s work.



  1. Sister Geraldine Marie, R.N.

    Wonderful story and very much needed in this world of great unrest.

    May the Lord richly bless the photographer, Vishniac, his progeny and all the Jewish people, living and dead!

  2. This makes me terribly sad. These decent people going about their lives were considered enemies that must be killed. How many of these people were murdered? It makes me sadder still that the Holocaust did not end antisemitism or even end anti-Judaism.

    • Thankfully, millions of people who lost their lives due to tyrannical rule by Hitler have the hope of resurrection back to life on a cleansed earth (Acts 24:15; John 5:28,29).

      God’s kingdom or heavenly government will provide this grand blessing during the upcoming 1,000-year rule of Jesus, King of that government, over humans on earth.

      Those resurrected will finally be reunited with family and friends, who have missed them so much! What great love our Creator has for us!

  3. Fran, the Jews who were murdered don’t have the hope of resurrection, at least according to you, because they Jews and did not believe in Jesus. You left that little fact out. According to you I will be be joining my relative who died in the Holocaust in Hell. If I am wrong please let me know, but no apologetics please.

    • Susan,

      You might thank the “doctor” of the church (of religion), Augustine of Hippo, for the theology on ETERNAL PUNISHMENT and his Original Sin Concept (See his CITY OF GOD).

      Although an intense and calculated thinker, Augustine was a two-fisted Patriarch which suited the power-mongering religious zealots just fine. It appears the religious built up what Yeshua tore down (through the Message of Ascending the Heart to the Mind). Had the Gospels of Philip, Andrew, Thomas, Mary and the Revelations of James and John been accepted as the Word, LIFE would have found “the Way” … as Hope is OF the Essence
      (Energy and Essence of God).

      There is the Language of the Religious, and there is Spiritual Language, and man fell short in his “hearing.” It seems he had the understanding in the Paradox on Love reversed—that Energy and Essence (see Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church).

      And he said: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Mark 4.9

      … but why listen to ME … according to the RCC and others, I have been misled by my “gurus” … :)

      Peace and Love

      • … in addition,

        Mary was put through a male stream in both Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. She was idealized as true womanhood in her projection of passivity on obedience and submission. Virginity was associated with desexualizing. She became impossible for women and an expression of desire for men. Her moment of upheaval was ignored: her role of Church founder, prophet, priest, mystic. Her son became even further idealized as symbol for religious greed. With the reformers’ elimination of Mary, woman and mother no longer appeared in the spiritual cosmos, nor in their churches, at all. Although Orthodoxy and Catholicism still do not present her as liberated and provocative, they at least have not given into purely masculine religiosity. One priest, in his discerning in the area of womanpriests … is correct in answering the question of the feminine: it is more important to have the mother feminine spiritula image, than to have women priests.
        This rejection of heavenly representation of women is why many denominations are dwindling. They have missed the important symbol that has been given. The elimination of “mother” has resulted in the emotional poverty of reformation spirituality. Criticism of Mary focus went hand in hand with total abolition of the ideal of virginity. While Catholicism and Orthodoxy held up the ideal only in surface, the TRUE VIRGINITY ideal was also rejected by the reformers. A return to mother restores the ideal: her role as the gathering agent in the “new spiritual community.”

        Peace and Love

  4. My father’s mother and four of her children were dragged out of their home one day by the Nazis in a sweep of the Jewish section of Dortmund, Germany. Refusing to board a truck destined for the rail station and Auschwitz death camp, hoping to somehow save her children, my valiant grandmother was bayoneted and murdered in the street. She and her family were poor, and she struggled every day to keep the family together with enough food to survive. Then, on this ignominius day, it all ended for her, and so tragically so.

    My father had already fled to the USA, in the hopes of earning enough money to bring his beloved Mom and brothers and sisters to safety. Not to be realized. When he heard what happened to his mother and siblings, my Dad joined Patton’s Army, in Darby’s First Ranger Battalion, and participated in the invasion of Anzio, Sicily in the First Wave Assault. He was one of the minority who survived.

    Until the day he passed away, he felt a deep grief and sorrow for the loss of his Mom and brothers and sisters. He fought for freedom, and now we are faced with a burgeoning threat by another merciless cruel force. It must be dealt with; and freedom and human dignity must be preserved for the sake of all humanity and life on Earth.

  5. be you Jewish or German or Norwegian or Apache polish Russian or what ever ..
    Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want.

    -Martin Luther


  6. Mike I think your moms death is all a person needs to know why humanity needs Jesus their only savior from sin’s .. in Germany at that time there was no freedom to even try to stop the murder of your mom .A German citizen would have been arrested if they even shouted out .. to leave your mom alone ..Here in the united states
    we have freedom of speech yet few here even CARE to use it to try to protect a infant child about to be murdered in a abortion clinic.. they may mouth how bad the holocaust was .. but they would have been no different perhaps even worse. .Since now days we even murder our own flesh and blood..

    we need a savior from sin who was brave AND LOVED enough to give his life up for us sinners ……… Jesus did..


    • The sexual exploitation of children: What if anything is the Church going to do about it? – Rhymes with Religion (see article posted in RNS).

      rob, don’t you have a job to do?

      I am not pro abortion, but do you think God is so weak and so derelict that He does not receive the children? Do you think by accusing others you do anything for the children in the world who are abused and impregnated (young girls)? You are so fast to populate but do very little if anything to address this rampant problem. I fear you religious live with your head in the sand.
      And tell me, please … do you think those without wife and children care about the children? The celibates … easy to PUSH for agenda … but what happens after?


      rob, don’t YOU have a job to do?

      Peace and Love

    • Black Americans first, my friend.

      Then Muslims. Then Mexicans. And then the Jews again. But blacks are already being targeted first and by police. We’ll be the first rounded up and exterminated. America’s wanted it for decades and history does not lie.

      If you have brown skin or are a Jew in America, you will never be safe.


  7. For all those who want to go all apologetic and make excuses for their faith, it must be noted that officially virtually EVERY church in occupied Europe supported collaboration with the Nazis and encouraged the persecution of those targeted for the concentration camps. The sole exception was the Danish Lutheran Church. Although individual efforts were made by various clergy, they did so in defiance of their church leaders or without approval of their actions.

  8. These poor people had no idea anything so horrible could happen, or of what was coming. I’m a black American, and I and my family are getting out of the United States this year because we are students of Jewish history.

    And we know it can happen here, and likely will. All the signs are in place.

    God help all these smiling gorgeous little faces and studious, trusting adult eyes, faces and souls. The clouds were dark and rolling dangerously in.

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