“Lest We Forget” portrait installation shows Holocaust survivors at the Boston Common

Pedestrians pass by photos that are part of the "Lest We Forget" installation at the Boston Common. (Lindsey Vickers/BU News Service)

By Lindsey Vickers
BU News Service

BOSTON—Large photos of Holocaust survivors with passages of their stories line paths in the lower half of the Boston Common.

They comprise an installation, titled “Lest We Forget,” featuring 60 portraits printed on large weatherproof mesh suspended from metal frames. The installation opened on Oct. 16 and will run through Nov. 1.

After visiting Auschwitz, German-Italian photographer Luigi Toscano was inspired to find survivors to speak to and photograph. The ongoing project, which started three years ago, currently consists of hundreds of portraits and interviews.

“My plan was to take 17 photos and now I have over 300,” Toscano said.

“Lest We Forget” has visited New York City, Washington D.C., Germany and Ukraine. In three weeks, Toscano and two team members will pack up the project and travel across the country to San Francisco in a Penske truck.

Toscano always displays the photos at a public location.

“It makes them accessible to everyone,” he said.

Toscano has to select the photos that will be shown in each location.

“For example, here there are 60 pieces. I have 300 and it is very difficult to select. Two months ago I was here and I spoke with nine Bostonians. I integrated them into this exhibit,” Toscano said.

The installation is not only relevant to those featured in it.

Juliava Zagachin was unaware of the installation as she walked through the Common with her son, a 5th grader, after seeing Hamilton.

“We were just walking across the Common and all these older people are staring at you,” she said.

The project spoke to Zagachin because of her personal background.

“I am Jewish and none of my very Jewish relatives suffered at all [during the Holocaust]. They all ran as soon as the war started,” she said.

“My grandfathers from both sides took their families and moved further into Russia. None of them died in the Holocaust. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Toscano prides himself on treating the project in ways that are not typical of a photographer. The intimacy he builds with his subjects is evident in every tight, vivid and crisp headshot.

“I don’t just jump in and then out. I stay a minimum of two to three hours. The longest interview was nine hours,” Toscano said. “It was a woman from my hometown. She had so much to tell me.”

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