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Lest We Forget (Gegen Das Vergessen)
by Karen Pecota

Professional photographer and filmmaker Luigi Tuscano gives Holocaust Survivors currently living a unique voice to share their experiences with the world by using their faces in his latest documentary Lest We Forget. Luigi, a self-taught professional photographer using a special donut hole light and lens to capture accurate visual imagery, had an idea: To photograph as many Holocaust survivors still living world-wide.

As a teenager, from an immigrant Italian family living in Germany, Luigi visited the concentration camp in Auschwitz and learned of the unimaginable crimes of the Holocaust. Luigi could never forget this experience. The many questions that surfaced inside of him were the Whys? and the Hows?, which consumed him into adulthood. In recent years, the questions that haunted him the most were, "Why/How could those inconceivable Nazi crimes happen?" and "What can we do to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again?" A question we must all answer.

In September 2014, a group of five former concentration camp detainees and forced laborers from Poland came to his hometown of Mannheim, Germany for a commemoration ceremony. Luigi had a chance to meet with these survivors and eventually shared with them his idea to photograph as many of the Holocaust survivors still living, world-wide. These survivors thought it a fabulous idea and agreed to support the planned photo project Lest We Forget. Luigi's dream started to become a reality. 

His plan was three fold: 1) to photograph each survivor willing to be photographed to make an illustrated picture book; 2) to make a film documenting Luigi's journey to photograph the survivors, as well as to document their stories; 3) to make a photographic installation that would be accessible in public places, such as, parks, public squares, etc.

Luigi says, "In the beginning, people didn't believe in me nor my project. But, hope came to me from a survivor named Horst, who lost his parents in Auschwitz. He was the first to encourage me to make the project and finish it. He died this year of 2019, at age 97. No matter how trying the project became, Horst would continually say, "You must keep going on, Luigi, You must!" Luigi and his team promise the survivors that they will do their part to keep the memory alive.

From 2016 to the present, Luigi has taken well over 300 photographs of Holocaust survivors from those living in the United States, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Belarus, Austria and the Netherlands. Luigi's listening ear has also given each personal story a platform to be heard--possibly for the last time. Each survivor has a unique story to tell but they make clear that their story represents those who are no longer able to give their account. It's still a mystery as to their survival.

Lest We Forget takes the eyes, the voices and the personal stories of the survivors and fights against forgetting. Anna Strishkova, who lost her parents and her identity from abuse in a concentration camp, says, "Who if not us?"

Another reason Luigi finds his project necessary to share with the world is because of the growing success of extreme nationalists world-wide. For those who have lived through the Holocaust this is a terrifying scenario of the evil that could rear its head again. Luigi notes, "In 2017, a part that tolerates racists, anti-Semites and holocaust deniers in its ranks was elected into the German Bundestag (German Federal Parliament)." Remembrances of the atrocities of the Nazi era are fading. The Holocaust survivors are dying. Soon there will be no one left to testify to the evils committed on innocent lives, much less be a warning for future generations to avoid such evil.

One of Luigi's main subjects in the documentary is 96-year-old Susan Cernyak-Spatz, who observes the rise of nationalism with grave concern. She says, "When we forget the past, we are damned to repeat it." Luigi says, "The project is more than just a look back to our past. By remembering, we raise awareness of hatred and bigotry in society today. Lest We Forget is only the beginning for future projects to address the importance to not forget in order to fight against the evils that want to rob us of a safe place for humanity to thrive.” (Karen Pecota)

The photographic installation Schedule

Luigi took over 300 portraits of Holocaust survivors. He then made each portrait into a large-scale size for outside display in parks, public squares, etc. He wanted the exhibition to be seen by everyone who wanted to see it. Lest We Forget would have the potential to reach thousands of people regardless of age, origin, language or education.

September 2015, the initial exhibition took place in Mannheim, Germany, Luigi's hometown, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It was thereafter taken to Kiev for the 75th anniversary of the massacre of Babyn Yar. Lest We Forget  then toured to Berlin, Germany, Dnipro, Pereiaslav and Lviv, Ukraine. In January 2018 the exhibition was brought to the United States to be shown in New York City, where it was installed at the United Nations headquarters to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In April 2018, it was shown in Washington, DC where more than 120 portraits were placed along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Around 150,000 visitors could see the world's largest exhibition of this kind in a public space. In October, Lest We Forget traveled to Boston, and in April 2019 to San Francisco. In May 2019, the installation was shown in Vienna and Mainz. Further US exhibitions are being planned in Chicago, Seattle and Pittsburgh.