In his 1991 book Out of the Shadows: A Photographic Portrait of Jewish Life in Central Europe Since the Holocaust photojournalist Ed Serotta documented a way of life almost wiped out by World War II. When he traveled to Sarajevo in 1993, he departed from the routines of other journalists staying at the Holiday Inn. They fanned out daily to funerals, hospitals, UN press conferences, and meetings with military leaders. “Me, I did Jews,” writes Serotta in his new book Survival in Sarajevo: How a Jewish Community Came to the Aid of Its City, published by Verlag Christian Brandstatter of Austria. An exhibit at the Spertus Museum of 56 photos culled from the book documents the largely overlooked efforts of La Benevolencija, Sarajevo’s Jewish community center, which has been helping Jews, Christians, and Muslims survive the siege as well as escape the city.
“Suddenly it’s Jews who are saving Muslims and Christians,” Serotta says. “In this war Jews are not the victims. In this war Jews are teaching the lessons they’ve learned over the centuries–how to survive. They survived World War II in Sarajevo because somebody saved them.”
The Atlanta-born photographer has founded the Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation, a collection of 1,600 books and 40,000 negatives temporarily housed in his Berlin apartment. Serotta resists the common perception that there are only “remnants” of European Jewry. Instead of tracking down “the last Jew” in Central Europe, he wants to nurture the ongoing community. Donations from American Jews are building new Jewish schools and neighborhood centers. “Even if they produce only one Kafka, that won’t be so bad,” he says.
The exhibit “Survival in Sarajevo: How a Jewish Community Came to the Aid of Its Community” continues through August 6 at the Spertus Museum, 618 S. Michigan. The museum is open 10 to 5 Sunday through Thursday, 10 to 3 Friday; admission is $4, $2 for children, students, and seniors (free on Friday). Call 322-1747 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Ed Serotta.