Jewish Community Life, New York, 1941-early 1950s

While struggling to establish himself as a scientist in the U.S., Vishniac accepted assignments from numerous Jewish communal, educational, and social service organizations. He was particularly skilled at photographing children, a fact evident in both his earlier images of 1930s eastern Europe and his later work in America, which often focused on the experiences and lives of children and young adults—most of whom were immigrants like himself and his own children. Like his pictures of Jewish medical institutions and immigrants, these photographs were often commissioned by Jewish philanthropic organizations, including the Jewish Education Committee, formed in 1939, documenting a wide range of religious and secular Jewish schools and camps in the years leading up to, and just after, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Taken during and shortly after the devastation of the Holocaust, Vishniac's photographs of thriving immigrant community centers such as the Educational Alliance, the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, and the Bronx House capture a critical period in American Jewish history when the center of Jewish organizational and communal life had shifted, suddenly and traumatically, from Europe to America.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, children represented the promising future of Jewish life in America, taking on profound symbolic significance in the 1940s. Portrayed as well-dressed, nourished, and energetic, the children inhabiting these images contrast starkly with Vishniac's pictures of eastern European children suffering the crippling effects of poverty. His pictures of healthy, thriving children, engaged in activities promoting and sustaining their American Jewish identity, reassured viewers of a bright future for Jews in America.

Maya Benton, Curator

← Back to all Exhibition Sections