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Toronto woman floored by colourized photo showing her father's 'complete anguish' at concentration camp

Toronto woman floored by colourized photo showing her father's 'complete anguish' at concentration camp

Several years ago, Rebecca Holzman was walking through an exhibit of photos of the Holocaust when she stumbled across an image that stopped her in her tracks.

In the black and white photograph were former prisoners of the Ebensee concentration camp in Austria after they had been liberated by American soldiers on May 6, 1945.

"For some reason, I was particularly drawn to that picture," Holzman recalled.

"I had to step back and actually lean against the wall because I realized one of the men in the picture ... was my dad," she said. "It was a shocking revelation."

Colourized by Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2021
Colourized by Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2021

Then, last year, Holzman came across an article showcasing a photo-editing technique called "colourization," where editors add colour to images that only existed in black and white.

Holzman says she was unsure what to make of that — as historical records, she wasn't sure they should be altered in any way.

And then she saw a colour version of the picture of her father.

"I burst into tears," Holzman said. "I knew this picture, I had studied this picture — I had lived with this picture for so many years."

"But to see it in colour … was so profound," she said. "It showed the complete anguish that [my] dad was feeling. You could see in detail the dirt and the grime and the filth and everything — etched on his face, on his body throughout."

"I could see the dried blood from the beatings he had to endure, and the discolouration of the edemas from his swollen feet. His pale skin, wasted away and drawn so sharply against his bones," she wrote in a Facebook post on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

She then decided to get in touch with the man who brought life into the photo, to thank him.

Submitted by Rebecca Holzman
Submitted by Rebecca Holzman

British photo colourizer Tom Marshall said the process took more than 10 hours and a great deal of research.

Marshall showcased images of the Holocaust that he had colourized on his blog on Jan. 27, 2020 in a project — that not only proved to be strenuous but also particularly difficult for him.

"I usually enjoy colourizing photos as the process brings the subjects to life gradually which is a satisfying experience, but with this project it was upsetting as the images are so shocking," Marshall said on his website.

Marshall said he uses a copy of a black and white photo and then digitally paint layers over it to add on colour through Photoshop.

But long before he colours, he researches. Marshall told CBC Toronto that "60 per cent of the work is the actual researching behind the colours [in] the picture."

Submitted by: Rebecca Holzman
Submitted by: Rebecca Holzman

Holzman's father, Marvin (Menachem) Holzman, from Kraków, Poland, was 13 years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939. Holzman says her father was separated from his family and was taken to five different concentration camps. He was 19 years old when the concentration camp was liberated — the lone survivor of his family.

Her mother, Therese Holzman, was from Belgium and also a child survivor of the Holocaust. She was only eight when the war broke out.

"He had to find a way to survive some of the most horrific places and situations imaginable on his own," said Holzman.

Her mother died in 2019 and her father died in 2012.

She said she knew from a very early age that she had wanted to continue on with Holocaust education and remembrance.

Submitted by Rebecca Holzman
Submitted by Rebecca Holzman

Holzman said neither she nor her family knew that this image had existed or that her dad was in it before stumbling upon the black and white photo that day.

After leaving to go home, she emailed the organization in hopes of obtaining a copy of the photo to keep — and she did.

"I knew that picture like the back of my hand. I remember coming home and sitting with [my] dad and telling him this experience and then pulling out the picture and showing it to him."

"Pictures are such a rarity, they're a treasure because so many were lost and destroyed."

Holzman said her father had only one photo from his family prior to the war.

"So to see this moment of record of what he was feeling and experiencing when the Americans had come through and liberated him and his time of suffering was finally over … hit me very very hard."

Colourized by Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2021
Colourized by Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2021

"They're a gift and I know that sounds a little strange considering the topic and what had happened but they truly are. They are a moment captured in time of what had happened and what was happening and they are history and they are proof."

Even with the added colour, Holzman said, the photos remain dull in a way.

"There was no vibrancy there because there was no vibrancy at the camps at all. They were horrific, horrific places," Holzman said.

But the addition of even the drab colours created a "lasting impact," she says.

Marshall agrees.

"[It's] quite emotional to see those faces coming back to life in front of you on a screen," Marshall told CBC Toronto.

"The rosiness in the cheeks, the thing that people naturally have … but a lot of these people were starving and malnourished, you know, they almost had grey skin... it was a completely different process."

Holzman's father had seen the original photo in black and white but had not seen the photo in colour.

Had her father been able to see the photo in colour, Holzman says she has no doubt it would have had a dramatic impact on him as well.

She says she still searches for more photos out there of her father.

Colourized by Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2021
Colourized by Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2021