Since 2014, the Italian-German photographer Luigi Toscano has created portraits of more than 500 Holocaust survivors. Time, he thought, was passing. Survivors were growing older. He wanted to preserve their stories.

In spring of 2022, Toscano traveled to St. Louis to photograph 12 survivors living in St. Louis. The portraits were featured as part of “Lest We Forget,” a public art installation on view from Oct. 20 to Nov. 6, 2022, in Ann and Andrew Tisch Park, located at the eastern end of Washington University’s Danforth Campus.

Holocaust survivor Rachel Miller stands next to a photo of herself and her older sister, Sabine
Holocaust survivor Rachel Miller with a photo of herself and her older sister, Sabine. In 1932, the family fled Warsaw for Paris, but when Nazis invaded France, in 1940, Miller’s father was detained and killed. Rachel was sent to live in the countryside, where Sabine was supposed to join her a few days later, but the delay proved fatal. Sabine never arrived. In 2004, Miller was able to confirm her sister’s death at the Auschwitz concentration camp. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University) 

Toscano has photographed survivors from Germany, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to Israel, the Netherlands and across the United States. His work has been seen in exhibitions around the world. He has received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, that nation’s highest honor, and been designated as a UNESCO Artist of Peace by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Large portrait is carried during the installation process
“Lest We Forget” exhibition installation.

“It’s incredibly moving,” said Dee Dee Simon, co-founder of Conversation Builds Character and chair of the Missouri Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission. “These larger-than-life portraits raise awareness about the history of the Holocaust and help to promote both human rights and a sense of mutual respect. I think it’s important that they be seen.”

Simon, who also serves as national chair of planned giving for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., first encountered Toscano’s work in 2018 when a version of “Lest We Forget” was installed at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Last year, Simon approached WashU’s Erin McGlothlin, professor of German and of Jewish studies and vice dean of undergraduate affairs, all in Arts & Sciences, about bringing the project to WashU.

“As a scholar of Holocaust narrative, I work on a lot of memoirs,” McGlothlin said. “I’m focusing on words and texts.” But in Toscano’s portraits, “you can see history written in their faces. There’s strength and frailty but also an openness and resilience.”

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Opening ceremony: “Lest We Forget”

Washington University has a long and distinguished history of serving as an intellectual haven for refugees from Nazi Germany and for survivors of the Holocaust. Learn more from Professor Heather McGlothlin, speaker at the opening ceremony of “Lest We Forget.”

“Lest We Forget” online experience