The day Ayre Ephrath was born in Bardejov, the Nazi regime began deporting Jewish people from his hometown.
A small caption next to a large-scale portrait of Ephrath, a blue-eyed man in his 70s with gray hair and a worn expression, detailed his life story as a Czechoslovakian who spent his entire young life moving and hiding across the European continent.
The image stands tall among 70 other portraits of Holocaust survivors from across the United States, Europe, and Israel in the Boston Common.
The exhibit, titled “Lest We Forget,” is a commemoration project created by German–Italian photographer and filmmaker Luigi Toscano in cooperation with the German Federal Foreign Office. The display depicts survivors and runs until Nov. 10. Toscano took nine of the photographs in the Boston area.
“Lest We Forget is a testament to all survivors of the Holocaust,” reads the main panel in the Boston Common. “Through remembrance, we raise awareness of hatred and bigotry in society today.”
Complementing the installation is an illustrated book composed of the portraits, a mobile app, and a documentary film in the works.
Greater Boston is the fourth-largest Jewish community in the nation, according to a 2015 study by Brandeis University. Toscano wrote in a statement to the Beacon that one of his main objectives is to show people that Holocaust survivors still exist.
“They should be a memorial to us that something like the Holocaust must not happen ever again. If we forget the past we are doomed to repeat it,” Toscano wrote in the statement.
Sophomore Gabriel Shapera discovered the portraits while walking through the Boston Common. Shapera said he grew up in a Jewish community in Beachwood, Ohio, and often heard stories about the Holocaust.
He said he immediately knew the photos were of Holocaust victims—just by the expressions on their faces. Shapera nodded to the publicness of the exhibit.
“People like me, who just randomly walk through and see it, can get caught off guard,” he said in an interview. “I think that’s a good thing because not everyone is like me in the sense that I’ve been exposed to that my whole life.”
Shapera said the recent rise in anti-semitism makes the project particularly significant. He referred to the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, which resulted in 11 fatalities and six injuries.
“I had family [members] that died in the Holocaust and so personally, I’m very connected, and pretty much everyone I know who is Jewish is connected,” Shapera said.
Sophomore Benjamin Zieper, the co-founder of Alpha Epsilon Phi—Emerson’s first Jewish fraternity—said he supports education on the Holocaust. Zieper emphasized the importance of the location of the exhibit and the impactfulness of photography.
“It’s cool that they’re doing it in the Common because that’s a place that people associate with beauty, relaxing, and peaceful times,” Zieper said. “It’s hard to imagine what things look like, and hard to imagine what they were.”