Filmmaker and visual artist Will Head met genocide survivors from Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and the Holocaust. Will’s Moving Portraits project shows survivors with objects that are deeply significant to them – whether that is a picture of a loved one, or something that helped them through the horrors they experienced.
Will Head meets Genocide Survivors
Will has brought these moments in time to life in an extraordinary way, adding a moving element to keep the image – and the memories – alive.
The Moving Portraits of Avram and Vera, Joan, Sokphal, Eric and Safet can be found below, as well as their stories of genocide and why their object is so meaningful to them.
Avram and Vera Schaufeld
Avram and Vera have been married for 62 years. They are both survivors of the Holocaust. This photograph was taken in their living room. Avram was a teenager when the war started, and was imprisoned in several concentration camps before being liberated. Vera came to England on the Kindertransport programme. All of her family were murdered. Avram and Vera met on a kibbutz in Israel after the war and fell in love.
Avram is holding a photograph of his mother’s family taken in 1913. All except one uncle were killed during World War II. Vera is holding two photographs. One shows her, aged nine, in Holland, where she was met by family friends and put on a boat to England. She does not remember this journey. The other is a photograph sent to England from Prague of her parents and grandmother. It says in Czech ‘to our darling’. It is the last photograph taken of Vera’s family before they were killed. Vera told Will:
‘All that I really remember is waving goodbye to my parents at Prague station and then my next memory is of sitting in Liverpool Street station, and hearing announcements in a language I couldn’t understand, and waiting for somebody to come and pick me up.’
‘It’s very important to keep the memory alive for generations to come, so that it is not repeated. If they learn something from our stories, then I think that our families didn’t die entirely in vain. But also for us – you cannot forget. Forgive yes, but forget, it’s a different story.’
Joan Salter is a child survivor of the Holocaust. This photograph was taken in her dining room. As a young child, Joan (then called Fanny Zimetbaum) was rescued by the Red Cross and taken to America. She has no memory of her life before America. She told Will: ‘When I went to America, I was fostered. My name was changed, my language was changed, my identity was changed. I became an American little girl. And then one day, when I was seven-and-a-half I was told I didn’t actually belong to that family. I was put on a plane, and taken by two people who, as far as I was concerned, were complete strangers.’
As a child, Joan rejected her old identity, and didn’t want to be part of the horror of what her parents had been through. But as an adult she decided to reclaim who she really was. She travelled to the Red Cross in Portugal and searched through boxes of photographs to find the picture she is holding, which shows herself, her sister, and the group she travelled to America with just before boarding the ship. ‘In a way looking at this photo is like looking at something that belongs to somebody else. But when I found it, in the early 1980s, it was the beginning of my journey to reclaim who I was.
‘Holocaust Memorial Day focuses on individuals, not on the number ‘six million’, and sees them as human beings, and I think that is very important. You see this group of little children, and they all would have gone to concentration camps, and that has meaning.’
Sokphal is a survivor of the Genocide in Cambodia. This photograph was taken in his garden. Sokphal was the eldest child in his family, and stayed with his mother and siblings during the Genocide. His father was taken away by the Khmer Rouge. They said he would be back in three months, and they never saw him again.
Sokphal took on the role of looking after the family. Most of his family survived the Genocide, escaping to refugee camps where they lived for seven years before finally being able to move to England in 1987. Sokphal holds a photograph of his mother, taken in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand. He told Will:
‘I miss my mother a lot, she was my best friend. We went through a lot of terrible times together during the Genocide. My mother kept herself strong and alive, because she hoped to find her husband again, and also for her children. My duty as the oldest child was to look after my mother.’
‘In the camps we were waiting and waiting and hoping that one day we would leave the camp. There is no future there, living with barbed wire around you, and we were hoping to have a good future somewhere else.
‘It’s very important to share memories, both good and bad, not to get angry, but to avoid these things happening again. I want to keep the memory of my parents alive.’
Eric Eugene Murangwa
Eric Murangwa is a survivor of the Genocide in Rwanda. This photograph was taken on the roof terrace of his block of flats. Eric was a professional footballer in Rwanda when the Genocide began. He was looked after by his teammates and some fans of the team, and he and his family managed to escape to England. Eric is holding a football to symbolise the importance of sport to his life. He explained to Will that
‘I had always looked at football as a tool for fun, but after 1994 I came to see sport as a way of bringing people together, educating people, changing people’s behaviour and perception. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years, ever since I started the charity Football for Hope, Peace and Unity.
‘Initially I had thought about using this project as a way of honouring my younger brother who was killed during the Genocide. He was only seven years old. I would have wished to have a photograph of him to show today, but all of the photographs we had back then were destroyed. We don’t have anything that you can hold and remember.
‘It’s always important to remember and to commemorate people who have gone, but it’s equally important to think positively and look forward. That’s what football does for me.’
Safet is a survivor of the Bosnian War. This photograph is taken in his living room. Safet was 16 when Muslim men and boys began being taken away to concentration camps. He remembers his father and brother being ordered out of the house, and his mother stopped him from going with them.
He came to England with his mother, and later his father and brother joined them. Safet is holding a school photograph taken in 1982 when he was six years old, before the war started. He told Will:
‘It was a really mixed group in terms of religion. We were kids and we didn’t think of religion at all. I have chosen this photograph because it shows how things were before, and it just reminds me. It would be nice to be able to go back to how it used to be. It can be done, I’m 100% certain. We have no problems between ourselves, it’s the politicians making these problems, and that’s the most frustrating thing.
‘It’s important to Keep the memory alive, because some people are just not aware of what was happening in Bosnia, it’s a surprise to me. People were dying in concentration camps, torture took place, in Europe, in the 1990s. Everyone thought that once World War II was over that wouldn’t happen again, but it did.’