New Acquisition | Photographs by Roman Vishniac

A collection of twelve photographs, recently acquired by the Museum, represents the most important chapter in the career of documentary photographer Roman Vishniac, who captured iconic images of Jewish life in Europe in the years before the Holocaust.

All twelve images date from 1935 to 1938, during which time Vishniac was sent out on assignment by the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Paris to photograph impoverished Jewish communities throughout Europe. The photographs represent his work in four or five cities—Kraków, Lublin, and Warsaw, Poland; Mukachevo, in the contested territory of Carpathian Ruthenia (present-day Ukraine); and possibly Berlin—each of which Vishniac visited over the course of dozens of expeditions during this four-year period. 

Initially created to inspire philanthropic giving in the face of economic hardship, these photographs later acquired more urgent historical significance as documents of European Jewish life before the Holocaust. After settling in the United States in 1940, Vishniac published these images in Polish Jews: A Pictorial Record (1947) and A Vanished World (1983). These books pair the photographs with written narratives that recount the stories of the photographer and his subjects, offering powerful accounts of persecution and perseverance.

Nine photographs from this collection are currently on view in Photography and Belonging, an exhibition developed as part of the 2018 Princeton community collaboration Migrations. The exhibition will be on view through September 2018. Ten photographs from the collection are shown below.

Daniel Peacock, Ph.D. candidate, Art and Archaeology

Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography