Portraits of Kaunas and Vilnius Jewish Ghetto Survivors, published to accompany the exhibition ‘Antanas Sutkus: In Memoriam’ This is one of the artist’s last significant works dedicated to the Lithuanian people, poignantly culminating his life-long survey, People of Lithuania, which began in 1976. Rooted in the classical European documentary tradition of humanist photography (Cartier-Bresson, Kertész, Izis, Brassai), that project’s black and white portraits of ordinary people in their everyday life stood in opposition to the model citizens and workers imagery then promoted by Soviet propaganda, and Sutkus is said to have also drawn inspiration from writers such as Kafka, Sartre and Faulkner, and filmmakers such as Fellini and Buñuel. In 1988 the artist began to photograph the Kaunas Jews who had escaped death in concentration camps. He learned about the mass killing of Jews by Nazis during WWII from his grandparents and felt deeply moved by the humiliation, tragic fate and mass destruction of human life in his homeland. Gradually personal relationships were formed between the photographer and his portrait subjects, mixed with feelings of shame and guilt for what happened behind the Vilijampole ghetto gates and the 9th fort – then known as ‘Enterprise 1.005B’ – between 1941 and 1944. As far back as the time of Lithuania’s Grand Duke Gediminas (1275-1341), who invited traders and artisans to come to Lithuania from various European states, the Jews were promised protection and support. During the following six hundred years the Jews took root in Lithuanian soil through their works and prayers, printing shops and synagogues, libraries and gymnasiums, songs and legend. That vibrant branch of Lithuania’s history and culture was abruptly ended when 200,000 men, women and children were shot dead and thrown into pits at forest edges, into quarries and death camps.
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