Book Review: Beyond the Shadows: The Holocaust and the Danish Exception

Judy Glickman Lauder’s photographs in Beyond the Shadows: The Holocaust and the Danish Exception are so masterfully crafted they make us feel as if we ourselves are on the train tracks approaching Treblinka, behind the barbed wire fence at Majdanek, at the entrance of Dachau under the sign Arbeit Macht Frei, outside a gas chamber at Auschwitz. Faced with these images, we can’t help but imagine what it must have been like for the millions of innocents who entered these passageways, in most cases never to return.

To capture “a world turned upside down and inside out, 40 years after the fact,” Glickman Lauder alternated between “straight photography” (black and white film) and infrared photography, which records light invisible to the naked eye to produce surreal and ghostlike visual effects. “I was photographing both – the invisible evidence of what had transpired, and the void, the emptiness…the absence of those who had died there.”  

Only a photographer who fully understands the communicative power of her medium can create images that in the words of Michael Berenbaum, convey “absence where presence had been.”

On a visit to Poland in the late 1980s, Glickman Lauder visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. an experience that would have a deep impact on her life and work. She returned to Europe several more times to photograph what was left of concentration camps, ghettos, and other sites associated with the “Final Solution.”

She was able to record through the medium of photography not only what she saw, but what she felt. Infusing her humanity and empathy for the victims in her photographs became the hallmark of her photographic style.

Midway through the book, as if to rescue us from despair and restore our faith in humankind, her camera’s focus shifts from the killing fields of Eastern Europe to Denmark, where in 1943, the Danish people saved nearly 8,000 Jews and family members from deportation to Nazi extermination camps.

“Glickman Lauder’s bold vision directs the eye and mind from the catastrophe to deliverance, from the horrific to the hopeful, from the black forbidding spaces of the camps to the strong light of the Danish portraits – survivors and rescuers,” comments historian Judith S. Goldstein in her accompanying essay, “The Danish Exception.”

In 1993, Glickman Lauder was invited to Denmark by Judith S. Goldstein, founder of Humanity in Action, to take photographs for an exhibition commemorating of the 50th anniversary of the rescue of Jews. There she had the opportunity meet, interview, and photograph resistance leaders, rescuers, and Jewish survivors. The book introduces us in portraits with short captions describing their wartime experiences. Among the rescuers are Fede Svendsen, a fisherman who transported 180 Jews to Sweden in his boat; Dr. Ebba Lund, who was only 22 when she ran a rescue operation out of Copenhagen Port transporting several hundred Jews to safety; and Frode Jakobsen, a literary scholar who abandoned his work to become a central figure in the resistance movement.

We also meet some of the saved, including Rabbi Bent Melchior, who was 14 at the time of his family’s rescue. Twenty years later, he became chief rabbi of Copenhagen’s Krystalgade Synagogue, a position previously held by his father. Herbert Pundik was 16 when his family hiked through a dark forest en route to the fisherman’s vessel that delivered them safely to Sweden. Pundik returned to Denmark after the war and become a respected writer and editor. Victor Borge, a popular Danish entertainer escaped to the United States with the help of Danish Americans and went on to enjoy a successful career in radio and television.

Curiously, in the last few pages of the book, Glickman Lauder returns to images of mass graves in Warsaw, a mound of human ash at Majdanek, an execution wall at Auschwitz. Her concluding essay reveals why she has taken us on this emotional roller coaster ride

“Humankind,” she writes, “cannot afford to forget this recent history. Hatred, injustice, and genocide did not end with World War II, and evil is present today, in too many parts of the world. We must challenge ourselves to step out of the comfortable role of bystander, and to stand in the way of all forms of hate. We need the moral courage to act against all injustice.”

Rose Eichenbaum is an award-winning photographer, author of six books on dance and theater and the child of Holocaust survivors. Her photography has been featured in numerous one-woman shows, including a three-year tour hosted by The Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibitions. She is the resident photographer for USC’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and directs The Art of Photographing Dance Workshop at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. To learn more about Rose Eichenbaum, visit her website.