Holocaust survivors' stories focus of museum exhibition

Auckland photographer Perry Trotter (left) and his son Ylia (16) take a break from setting up the ''Shadows of Shoah'' exhibition at Lakes District Museum. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh
Auckland photographer Perry Trotter (left) and his son Ylia (16) take a break from setting up the ''Shadows of Shoah'' exhibition at Lakes District Museum. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh
Haunting stories from survivors of the Holocaust will be told in an exhibition which opens at the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown tonight.

''Shadows of Shoah'' is the work of Auckland photographer and musician Perry Trotter and his wife Sheree, who have interviewed and photographed more than 35 survivors in Israel, Australia and New Zealand since 2008.

The Lakes District Museum will be the first venue in the South Island to host the exhibition.

Mr Trotter told the Otago Daily Times he was ''deeply concerned'' by anti-Semitism, something he had studied for a long time from the perspective of a Christian.

''I'm very concerned much of the anti-Semitism over the last 1600 to 1800 years has been at the hands of people who identified as Christian.''

During a trip to Israel with his wife in 2008, the couple learnt there were several Holocaust survivors in the area and asked to interview and photograph them, not knowing what they would do with their material.

However, after returning to New Zealand the couple turned the interviews and photos into three-minute vignettes telling the experiences of survivors and began working on the ''Shadows of Shoah'' exhibition.

''We wanted to communicate that in a way that will stick with people who know nothing about the Holocaust.

''It's not what most people would think of in terms of an exhibition.

''It's a self-contained exhibition about 8m in diameter. It's dark, there are aluminium panels and high-definition [screens] with projection and audio on a three-minute cycle.

''It's a very immersive ... moving experience.''

Stories included that of Roald Hoffmann (77), a theoretical chemist who migrated to the United States in 1949 and went on to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1981.

The man who went on to become a professor of humane letters at Cornell University, in New York, was born into a Jewish family in Poland and after Germany invaded the country and occupied his town, his family was sent to a labour camp.

His family bribed guards to allow an escape and arranged for 5-year-old Roald, his mother, two uncles and an aunt to hide in the attic and storeroom of the local schoolhouse. Roald remained in hiding until he was 7. His father remained at the labour camp but was killed by the Germans for his involvement in a plot to arm prisoners.

In May 2012, Shadows of Shoah was incorporated as a charitable trust which focuses on education concerning the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Later that year, the Raye Freedman Trust agreed to support the construction of the exhibition, officially opened by Prime Minister John Key in January last year.

Since then, it had been taken around the North Island, being exhibited at venues including the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and the Waikato Museum.

Mr Trotter said the trust co-operated with the Jewish Foundation of New Zealand, interviewing survivors visiting New Zealand, while the foundation arranged for survivors to speak to schools about their experiences.

The exhibition opens at 6pm today.