Portraits of strength: Minnesota's Holocaust survivors

Esther Begam, left, and Leo Weiss, right
Esther Begam, born July 2, 1928, Chrzanow, Poland, left. When the German army entered Poland in 1939 Esther Reicher was only 11 years old. Her father Mordechai, a well-respected rabbi, was away serving as a chaplain in the Polish army. Esther, her mother, older sister and little brother were caught by the tightening grip of the Nazi war machine. Esther was the only member of her family to survive. Leo Weiss, Dec. 6, 1924 - Sept. 30, 2015, Drohobycz, Poland, right. Leo was about to be shipped out to what he knew would be certain death. He bravely told the commanding officer that he wouldn't leave without his wife, who was in the next cell. Leo wasn't married, but his schoolmate, a beautiful young girl was in the next cell. Surprisingly, the officer let them both stay behind, thereby escaping death.
David Sherman | JCRC

David Sherman makes his living photographing some of Minnesota's most elite athletes. But it was a small group of Twin Cities senior citizens who taught him lessons on power and grace.

They were Holocaust survivors. Sherman said he felt compelled for years to get the aging survivors to tell their stories and be photographed. He recalls as a child witnessing a sorrowful dedication of a Holocaust Memorial in Sioux City, Iowa.

In 2010, he connected with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and began the project that became "Transfer of Memory," highlighting portraits of Twin Cities survivors. The exhibit has been shown at colleges, churches and synagogues throughout Minnesota.

Sherman said a call out to local synagogues found people willing to tell their stories. Curators Laura Zelle and Susie Greenberg brought on writer Lili Chester, the daughter of survivors.

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"You see that there are all kinds of survivors. Those that left early, those that left Germany in the mid-1930s, those that left after Kristallnacht in 1938, those that went to Shanghai and those that survived the camps. It's important to me not to make any distinctions between survivors."

Sherman, the team photographer for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, said he wanted to show survivors "not as victims but as people who are heroes, really, who had gone through this horrific experience and picked up and started over and created a life. And I wanted to show them as full of life and not as defined by victimhood.

"For me," he added, "the experience was very humbling."

If you go

The exhibit runs through April at St. Paul's Germanic-American Institute.

There is a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Commemoration Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul.

Correction (April 12, 2018): Laura Zelle's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.