The impressive portraits by the German-Italian photographer Luigi Toscano of surviving victims of Nazi atrocities on Vienna’s Ringstrasse were damaged three times during their showing in Vienna. In these pictures Luigi Toscano confronts us with large-scale versions of the faces of contemporary witnesses, survivors of the Holocaust, with eyes that look directly at you, serious eyes, but also smiling eyes. The eyes of people who have lived through the worst of times, people who can tell what it was like being in a concentration camp, people who have seen family and friends starved, beaten, murdered.
The photo exhibition “Against Oblivion” was prominently placed, directly on the Ringstraße in front of Heldenplatz (“Heroes’ Square”) and was on view until this morning. It will now travel on to other European cities. The impressive large portraits are printed on translucent fabric, letting light and background shine through. They are powerful. They are also fragile.
In the last few days of their showing in Vienna, some unidentified hateful individuals took a knife to some of these faces. “What is the matter with Austria?!”, the photographer and many people rightly asked. But the haters lost. Many Viennese wanted to show: #wearenotlikethat, #sosindwirnicht, and #wirsindmehr .
People turned up to sew the damaged pictures together, hung up hearts with love messages, placed flowers in front of the portraits, and kept vigil in front of the pictures night and day, until today’s dismantling of the exhibition.
The most beautiful thing about it: Christians, Muslims, people of all faiths, atheists were keeping watch together to protect the memory of victims of the holocaust. And I must not forget to mention the team of the Nesterval theatre troupe, whose members also took turn standing guard. I am so thankful to these caring and engaged young and not so young people who took time out of their busy lives to guard these valuable memorials.
“#Neveragain must not become an empty phrase – we have to live it daily!” – Alexander Van der Bellen, Austrian President
No, we will not forget.