In honor of International Holocaust Memorial Day, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, released portraits she took of Holocaust survivors and their grandchildren.
She took the photographs as part of a project between the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Jewish News, and the Royal Photographic Society. A forthcoming the exhibition will display 75 images of survivors and their family to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. (Kate is a patron of the Royal Photographic Society, a role held by Queen Elizabeth II for 67 years until June 2019.)
“The harrowing atrocities of the Holocaust, which were caused by the most unthinkable evil, will forever lay heavy in our hearts. Yet it is so often through the most unimaginable adversity that the most remarkable people flourish,” Kate said in a statement posted to Kensington Royal’s social media accounts.
Kate herself photographed two survivors for the project: Steven Frank and Yvonne Bernstein. The families chose items of “personal significance” to include in the photos, and Kate spent time with both families before taking their portrait. Both portraits were taken next to a window where light came in from the east, in the direction of Jerusalem.
“Whilst I have been lucky enough to meet two of the now very few survivors, I recognize not everyone in the future will be able to hear these stories first hand,” Kate wrote. “It is vital that their memories are preserved and passed on to future generations, so that what they went through will never be forgotten.”
She continued: “One of the most moving accounts I read as a young girl was ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ which tells a very personal reflection of life under Nazi occupation from a child’s perspective. Her sensitive and intimate interpretation of the horrors of the time was one of the underlying inspirations behind the images.”
“It was a true honor to have been asked to participate in this project and I hope in some way Yvonne and Steven’s memories will be kept alive as they pass the baton to the next generation,” she added.
Frank is pictured with his granddaughters, Maggie, 15, and Trixie, 13:
Frank, 84, was born in Amsterdam. During the war, he was sent to Westerbork transit camp then to Theresienstadt. He and his brothers were three of only 93 children who survived the Theresienstadt Ghetto; 15,000 children were sent there during the Holocaust.
Frank chose a pan and tomatoes to include in his portrait. During his time in Theresienstadt, he and another prisoner grew tomatoes.
“I became his little helper, watering these tomatoes,” Frank recalled. “He showed me how to pick out the side shoots so they grew straight, then when he was sent off to a camp in Poland he asked me to look after his plants. I was so proud to be asked — I was only 8.”
Since the war ended, Frank has continued to grow tomatoes. “Every time I water them, I think of this man. I don’t even know his name. I still feel, 75 years on, that I’m watering his tomato plants for him. When the tomatoes are out now the grandchildren come and help to pick them.”
Why the pan? It was one of the few items his mother was allowed to keep when they were taken to Westerbork, and then Theresienstadt.
“It was particularly important in the last camp [Theresienstadt] because we were basically just being starved to death there.” His mom would do washing for other prisoners in exchange for bread, and then take the bread crumbs she got, mix them with water, and make a paste. “She would come into the children’s barracks where I was with my brothers and feed us in turn with one spoon, a mouthful at a time. I never saw her eat a spoonful herself. That food kept us going — the pan was the most important thing she took into the camp.”
In the photo, Frank’s granddaughters gaze at him lovingly. Their experience being photographed by one of the most famous woman in the world?
“It was amazing,” Trixie said. “The Duchess of Cambridge was really interested in our family and in Opa’s story, and the items we brought with us.”
Maggie said, “I think it helped put into perspective that he’s just our Opa. He’s our grandpa as well as a Holocaust survivor.”
Yvonne Bernstein, 82, was the other survivor photographed by Kate, with her granddaughter, Chloe, 11.
Bernstein, born in Germany, survived the Holocaust as a child while hiding in France. In 1938, her father was in Amsterdam on business when Kristallnacht occurred. He didn’t return to Germany, and went into hiding, before ending up in the United Kingdom. Her mom managed to get a visa to the UK as well, and expected to send for her daughter shortly after — but then war broke out.
Bernstein went to live with her aunt and uncle, and they took her into hiding. Her uncle was discovered, and sent to Auschwitz, where he was murdered.
In 1945, she arrived in Britain to be reunited with her parents at age 8.
In the portrait, she is holding her German ID card, dated March 3, 1939 and stamped with a “J” for Jewish. On the table is a brooch bought for her by her daughter, made by a jewelry company founded by her great-grandfather. His factories were seized by the Nazis.
“It’s important that what my aunt and uncle did for me isn’t forgotten,” Bernstein said, “My aunt suffered a tremendous amount but she always remained as cheerful as she could for our sakes.”
Kate’s takeaway from her time with Bernstein and Frank?
“Despite unbelievable trauma at the start of their lives, Yvonne Bernstein and Steven Frank are two of the most life-affirming people that I have had the privilege to meet,” she said. “They look back on their experiences with sadness but also with gratitude that they were some of the lucky few to make it through. Their stories will stay with me forever.”
Image of Kate Middleton in header by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images