Richard Ehrlich’s photographs of the Holocaust ArchivesMore than half a century has passed since the Holocaust — enough time to digest a plethora of scholarship, museum exhibitions, monuments, documentaries and artistic reckonings — but still not enough time to understand. Into this mix, we can now add Richard Ehrlich’s photographs. His portfolio of the Holocaust Archives at the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen illustrates the Nazi bureaucracy with images at once artistic and chilling.
Created in two visits in 2007, Ehrlich’s portfolio contains 52 color, digital images. The complete portfolio is already in a number of public collections, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; Yad Vashem in Jerusalem; the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme in Paris; the Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education; the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; and the Special Collections of the UCLA Young Research Library.
The work was first publicly exhibited at American Jewish Committee’s Annual Meeting in May 2008, where it was viewed by over 1,000 people, including members of Congress, foreign dignitaries and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The portfolio will next be exhibited at the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, California from August 26–30, 2008, where it will be co-sponsored by AJC Los Angeles and the German Consulate and German Information Center. Says Seth Brysk, Executive Director, AJC Los Angeles, “I am pleased the relationship with Rick will continue in Los Angeles.” A free, public opening reception is set for Tuesday, August 26 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., where Christian Stocks, Consul General of Germany, will speak.
The portfolio will also be included in the exhibition “Of Life and Loss,” opening October 26, 2008 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Jewish Federation of Santa Barbara. Additional exhibitions are planned at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum; the University at Buffalo Art Gallery, State University of New York; and the Musée du Judaisme in Paris. Éditions de La Martinière will publish the portfolio in book form.
The Holocaust Archives at the International Tracing Service, Bad Arolsen
With archives of some 50 million documents, the International Tracing Service (ITS) has played an important role in historical research, family reunification, refugee services, and in tracing the fates of countless individuals. Although it has been active since 1943, the ITS has maintained a low profile, in consideration of the privacy of the more than 17.5 million people in its Central Name Index. Occupying six buildings — including a former SS barracks — in Bad Arolsen, Germany, the ITS archives contain more than 16 miles of records and artifacts that reveal, with excruciating exactitude, the Nazi campaign to murder millions and eradicate European Jewry and other minorities.
Having read a short article about the ITS in the International Herald Tribune, Richard Ehrlich, a surgeon with a growing reputation as a photographer, pulled out all stops to gain access to the Bad Arolsen collection. When his initial request was denied, he explains, “I called anyone who might have influence and finally found a sympathetic official in the State Department.” In two visits totaling seven days in June and September 2007, Ehrlich completed this compelling portfolio. In bringing these images to the public forum, Ehrlich recreates his own shocking and ultimately numbing encounter with the “banality of evil.”
Through Ehrlich’s lens, we see the obsessive mentality of the Nazi bureaucracy—countless aisles of catalog drawers, towering stacks of paperwork, row upon row of file folders. At a time of resurging Holocaust denial, these folders, storage boxes and ledgers — the normally mundane paraphernalia of record keeping — provide painful and irrefutable evidence of history’s most unimaginable crime.
The records in the ITS archives were collected from a number of sources, including the Gestapo, ghettos, prison camps and every agency of Nazi authority. Among the many individual documents depicted in the portfolio are the original Schindler’s list, a transport order to Bergen Belsen including Anne Frank’s name, and an invitation from Gestapo chief Reinhard Heydrich to a brunch meeting to discuss “a total solution to the Jewish question in Europe.” Through Ehrlich’s photographs, we can read entries in the Buchenwald prisoner logs and death book, study the Nazis’ elaborate system for coding prisoners in charts and maps, read of a precise, every-two-minute shooting Himmler ordered in honor of Hitler’s birthday, and view medical records that count the lice removed from prisoners.
Richard Ehrlich’s interest in photography began as a child growing up in the northern suburbs of New York City. He postponed photography for almost 40 years to build a surgical practice in Los Angeles, limiting his picture taking to a visual record of his work in the operating room. Seven years ago, he renewed his devotion to photography and soon received acclaim for his work. California painter Tony Berlant describes Ehrlich’s photography as “…technically precise, yet soaringly evocative in content.”
Working in series that focus primarily on natural landscapes, architecture and his world travels, Ehrlich has created a substantial body of work. Wherever he directs his lens, Ehrlich’s keen eye elicits a resonant sense of place, as may be seen in his portrayal of his local turf, Homage to Rothko: Malibu Skies. Ehrlich’s photographs have been acquired by many museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the UCLA Hammer Museum and the Denver Art Museum. He is represented by a number of prestigious galleries, including Bonni Benrubi, New York City; Fay Gold, Atlanta; Weston, Carmel, CA; and Craig Krull, Santa Monica. Richard Ehrlich’s photographs of I.M. Pei’s Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center were published in 2007, and Nazraeli Press has published a volume of his images, Namibia: The Forbidden Zone (2007). Nazraeli will publish Ehrlich’s The Body as Art: The Art of the Body in 2009.