The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Finding beauty in the beast

Loli Kantor, photographer and daughter of Holocaust survivors, told an SMU audience Friday evening how she was inspired to find and document Holocaust survivors over a three-year period, shooting photos of her subjects mostly in Poland and Ukraine.

“I try to show the beauty of the past and present,” Kantor said in a lecture at O’Donnell Hall. “I am deeply affected by the past.”

Her mother died giving birth to her and her father passed away before she was 14 years old. Finding and looking at old black and white photos of her mother first sparked Kantor’s curiosity; she wanted to get to know the mother she never knew.

“She grew up with photographs of her mother,” Scott Kantor, Loli’s husband said. “The pictures of the past and present say a lot to her.”

Kantor prefers black and white photography because it casts a certain raw emotion. It recreates the time period of the Holocaust.

“There is something about black and white,” Kantor said. “There is so much depth. It’s hard for me to achieve that in color.”

The advanced age and poor health of the Holocaust survivors gave her task urgency. Kantor never knew how long these survivors would stay healthy or alive because “they smoke and are ill.”

Some of her photographs are taken in the forest, hence the title of her exhibit, “There Was a Forest: Jews in Eastern Europe Today,” showing through Nov. 15 in the Hamon Arts Library.

“These forests do something to me… I am very moved by them,” Kantor said.

“It’s pretty amazing. And she’s done a lot of it by herself,” Scott said. “The first night that she really saw the enormity of it, that all these people are dead, she was very tearful.”

Kantor told the story of Regina, or the “cat lady,” as she is known. Using a projector, she showed a picture of a stocky, wizened old woman, wearing a kerchief and tall, wool knee socks. A cat scratched itself in the background.

This Holocaust survivor was in the selection line to be executed. They had just taken her mother away. Regina, a small girl at the time, saw a kitten hiding in a corner and started playing with it. The prison guard, who just happened to be very fond of cats, saw her playing with the kitten and spared her life. Ever since, Regina has taken care of many cats and now has 12 of her own.

Kantor likes going back to visit the people she has photographed. She enjoys getting to know them more and notices that each photograph starts to look a little different, especially three years later.

She has made a point to attend Jewish celebrations, too.

“I wanted to see people happy and celebrating.” Kantor said, pointing out that it was a stark contrast to what a living hell their lives were during the Holocaust.

Another favorite hobby Kantor has is researching and photographing old synagogues damaged during the war. The audience sighed as Kantor showed photographs of these old synagogues, some of which are now nightclubs.

A clear religious theme runs through Kantor’s work, especially in her photographs of old synagogues. She talked about how before the Holocaust, each of these communities were made up of approximately 400 Jews. Now, there are an estimated 40 Jews in each community.

Today, the communities are so small and very little resources are available to them.

To quote Isaac Bashevis Singer, Kantor ended her presentation with “Because we are artists we cannot forget. We cannot forget the joy and neither can we forget the pain.”

“And this,” Kantor said. “Is the essence of my work.”

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