As the world remembers the horrors of the Holocaust, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the Duchess of Cambridge has shared these two powerful portraits of survivors with their grandchildren. Kate, who took the photographs at Kensington Palace earlier this month, said she was inspired to take the images by her childhood reading of The Diary of Anne Frank, and said the stories of those who survived the Nazi genocide of European Jews should "never be forgotten".
She said: "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.
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"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. 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.
"Whilst I have been lucky enough to meet two of the now very few survivors, I recognise not everyone in the future will be able to hear these stories first hand. It is vital that their memories are preserved and passed on to future generations, so that what they went through will never be forgotten.
"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."
Yvonne Bernstein with her granddaughter Chloe Wright in a photo taken by Kate
Kate, who is patron of the Royal Photographic Society, said: "I wanted to make the portraits deeply personal to Yvonne and Steven – a celebration of family and the life that they have built since they both arrived in Britain in the 1940s. The families brought items of personal significance with them which are included in the photographs. It was a true honour 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."
Art history graduate Kate, who visited Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring painting in Amsterdam in 2016, focused on the Dutch painter's style because both Steven and Yvonne have strong links to the Netherlands. She also photographed them next to a window bringing in light from the East - the direction of Jerusalem.
According to a royal source, the Duchess was "deeply inspired" after spending several hours with Steven and Yvonne, who she was set to meet again on Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. For her photograph of Steven Frank, 84, and his granddaughters, Maggie and Trixie Fleet, aged 15 and 13, Kate took inspiration from the style of Johannes Vermeer.
Amsterdam-born Steven survived the Westerbork and Theresienstadt concentration camps. He is pictured holding a pan his mother used to help feed him and his brothers in the camps and a tomato from his garden. As a child he helped another prisoner grow tomatoes in Theresienstadt. He said: "I would hope that the people who look at these pictures not only look at the beauty of the photography, but they will also think of the people behind the photos and their families that they lost in the Holocaust."
Trixie said: "It was amazing, The Duchess of Cambridge was really interested in our family and in Opa's story, and the items we brought with us." Maggie added: "It's important to tell the story so it doesn't happen again."
Steven Frank with his granddaughters Maggie and Trixie Fleet in a photo taken by Kate
Kate captured Yvonne Bernstein, 82, and her granddaughter Chloe Wright, 11, looking at Yvonne's German ID card, stamped with a J to mark her out as a Jew. On the table is a brooch made by the jewellery firm founded by her great-grandfather, which was taken over by the Nazis.
Yvonne was a toddler in Germany when the Nazi persecution of Jews began. Her parents managed to find work in the UK, but war broke out before they could send for her and her uncle and aunt took her into hiding in France. Her uncle was later murdered at Auschwitz but Yvonne's father eventually found her and brought her to Britain aged eight, in 1945. She said: "It's important that what my aunt and uncle did for me isn't forgotten."
The Duchess's photographs will form part of an exhibition by the Royal Photographic Society, The Jewish News and the Holocaust Memorial Trust later this year, bringing together 75 powerful images of survivors and their family members with the aim of honouring the victims of the Holocaust and celebrating the full lives that survivors have built in the UK. Kate is an accomplished photographer and has shared many of her own images over the years, including portraits of her children and photographs from her travels.
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