JFS Perspectives

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Local Photographer’s Goal is to Photograph Every Living Holocaust Survivor

Local Photographer’s Goal is to Photograph Every Living Holocaust Survivor

Denver couple John and Amy Israel Pregulman have made it their mission to photograph as many Holocaust survivors as possible, before it’s too late. This project began in 2015 when John was commissioned to take pictures of survivors for an exhibit at a Holocaust museum in Illinois. After his work there was done, he felt like he needed to continue.

“I went there and took 65 photos in three days and became absolutely enthralled with their attitude, their outlook, and the amazing things they’ve done in their lifetimes, since the war,” he says in a National Public Radio interview.

Not long after he started his independent project, John says he made a disturbing discovery: poverty. “Invariably every time I take a photo, they want to give me something to eat,” John says. But many times, there was nothing to eat. Often, they had unexpected expenses and couldn’t buy groceries.

Until then, Amy says, they were unaware that 35,000 U.S. Holocaust survivors — about a third — live below the poverty line. That’s when they set up their not-for-profit, KAVOD, which gives emergency aid to Holocaust survivors in need. The money usually comes in the form of gift cards, and covers needs like food and medicine, and, recently, hurricane relief aid.

KAVOD, the Hebrew word for “dignity,” helps cut through the red tape of getting financial aid, John says. They work through organizations like Jewish Family Service to help survivors. John explains, “All we need to know is: What’s their situation? What do they need? We don’t need to know anything except that they are survivors.”

There’s no gallery, no exhibition, and no fanfare with the photos John takes. He simply gives the photos to the survivors. The only place the 720 pictures are displayed is on his office wall, plastered from ceiling to floor with faces—each one a triumph over history.

John says he sees a transformation in the survivors from before they sit for a photo session to the moment they receive their pictures. “It really gives them a sense of dignity, worth, and happiness to know that people are going to remember them. Their biggest fear is that they’re going to be forgotten.” Each survivor also gets a hand-written personal note from John along with his or her photos, something Amy says helps to create a connection.

John and Amy will be in Boulder on February 20 to take photographs of Holocaust survivors as part of their Photography Legacy Project of Survivors. If you would like more information or know someone who would like to be photographed for this project, please contact the Boulder JFS office at 303.415.1025.

Photos courtesy of John Pregulman.