The Duchess of Cambridge has released two photographs of Holocaust survivors in honour of Holocaust Memorial Day 2020.
The photos, taken earlier this month at Kensington Palace, are part of a larger exhibit that will open later this year—conceived by Jewish News, the Royal Photographic Society, and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
Kate photographed two survivors who later settled in Britain: Yvonne Bernstein and Steven Frank. She said, in a statement on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website, “The harrowing atrocities of the Holocaust, which were caused by the most unthinkable evil, will forever lay heavy in our hearts. Yet it is so often through the most unimaginable adversity that the most remarkable people flourish.
“Despite unbelievable trauma at the start of their lives, Yvonne Bernstein and Steven Frank are two of the most life-affirming people that I have had the privilege to meet. They look back on their experiences with sadness but also with gratitude that they were some of the lucky few to make it through.”
Steven Frank, originally from Amsterdam, survived being sent to multiple concentration camps. Of the 15,000 children sent to Theresienstadt, Kensington Palace noted that he and his brothers were only three of 93 to survive.
Kate’s photo of Steven features his granddaughters, Maggie, 15, and Trixie, 13.
Yvonne, who was photographed with her granddaughter Chloe, was one of the hidden children of France, hiding out under the care of her aunt and uncle, and frequently changed her name to survive. She is originally from Germany.
“Their stories will stay with me forever. Whilst I have been lucky enough to meet two of the now very few survivors, I recognise that not everyone in the future will be able to hear these stories first hand. It is vital that their memories are preserved and passed on to future generations so that what they went through will never be forgotten,” Kate said.
In a blog post on the Jewish News website, Justin Cohen, the man behind the idea for the exhibit, said that Kate was meticulous in preparing for the photo session. He writes, “The fine art graduate spent several days researching what she could bring to the table in order to best capture these individuals for the future.
“She was at pains to ensure the survivors were comfortable with the vision and that the spotlight was on the heroes to be pictured and not the Duchess herself.”
Kate explained her vision as being inspired by the account of Anne Frank.
“One of the most moving accounts I read as a young girl was ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ which tells a very personal reflection of life under Nazi occupation from a child’s perspective. Her sensitive and intimate interpretation of the horrors of the time was one of the underlying inspirations behind the images.
“I wanted to make the portraits deeply personal to Yvonne and Steven—a celebration of family and the life that they have built since they both arrived in Britain in the 1940s. The families brought items of personal significance with them which are included in the photographs.”
Steven’s granddaughter, Trixie, said, “The Duchess of Cambridge was really interested in our family and in Opa’s story, and the items we brought with us.”
Maggie added, “I think it helped put into perspective that he’s just our Opa—he’s our grandpa as well as a Holocaust survivor. It’s important to tell the story so it doesn’t happen again.”
“Before meeting Steven Frank and Yvonne Bernstein, The Duchess spent significant time preparing for the photography session, and once they had arrived she spent nearly two and a half hours with them, getting to know them and their stories, and taking their photographs.
“Why give you all this background? It’s crucial because it shows that our Royal Family are determined to follow up oft-repeated words of remembrance with practical steps as, day by day, we bid farewell to more survivors. It shows they are personally ready to take on the message of the survivor generation to challenge all forms of hatred wherever it rears its ugly head.
“As the Duchess and Prince William wrote in the visitors’ book at Stutthof concentration camp two years ago: ‘All of us have an overwhelming responsibility to make sure that we learn the lessons and that the horror of what happened is never forgotten and never repeated.’ In other words, the message is about the here and now at least as much as about the past.”
He also revealed that Kate suggested bringing in the Royal Photographic Society, of which she is patron, to support the project. The other photographs in the exhibit will be taken by its members. Other portraits released for Holocaust Memorial Day were taken by RPS Honorary Fellow Jillian Edelstein and RPS member Frederic Aranda.
Kate said, “It was a true honour to have been asked to participate in this project and I hope in some way Yvonne and Steven’s memories will be kept alive as they pass the baton to the next generation.”
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will attend the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorative Ceremony in Westminster on Monday.