Lost Stories, Found Images: Portraits of Jews in Wartime Amsterdam

February 26, 2015 to April 17, 2015
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Goethe Institut
530 Bush Street, ART Lounge
San Francisco


Photograph of Judith Trijtel, Amsterdam, 1943, by Annemie Wolff | Copyright: Monica Kaltenschnee, Haarlem Holland

A world premiere exhibit of the photographs of Annemie Wolff

The San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, the Goethe Institut of San Francisco, and the Wolff Foundation in Amsterdam are pleased to present an exhibition of never-before-seen portraits of Jews living in Amsterdam in 1943. The exhibit opens on Thursday, February 26, 2015, and continues until April 17.

Closing Night Event

Closing Night event with music from Jeremiah Lockwood (founder of Sway Machinery, past member of the Balkan Beat Box, regular contributor to the Idelsohn Society), Meg Baird, and Charlie Saufley (April 16, 8:00pm – doors open at 7:30pm)

Documenting a lost history

German-born Dutch photographer Annemie Wolff, who passed away in 1994, took these photos at a time of great danger, both for her and for her subjects. Dutch researchers An Huitzing and Tamara Becker have painstakingly uncovered – and continue to uncover – the identities and compelling stories of many individuals featured in these unique photos. These previously lost works help illuminate an untold story of Jewish life in Amsterdam during the Holocaust.

Dutch photo historian Simon Kool discovered the photos in 2002 while preparing an exhibit about the Amsterdam harbor that included an image taken by Ms. Wolff. While obtaining permission to use the photo from Ms. Wolff’s heir and copyright holder, Monica Kaltenschnee, he found an unidentified box containing 100 rolls of film from the year 1943 in the attic of her home. Those film rolls contained portraits of 434 individuals, residents of “Amsterdam South,” including Jews wearing the Yellow Star, Jews without these stars, and non-Jews. Names and addresses were handwritten in an accompanying receipt book.

But, why would people take the time, in the middle of a war, to have their pictures taken? One possibility is for identification papers (or false papers, most likely). Another is for mementos to be shared with friends and family in uncertain times. We may never know the exact reason each of these individuals had their photos taken.

What we do know is that Dutch researchers have uncovered the identity and fascinating stories of many of these individuals depicted. While about half of the Jews identified survived the war, these images represent the last trace of many others who perished.

In addition to the striking 1943 portraits, the San Francisco exhibit will also feature other photos taken of or by Ms. Wolff, demonstrating the range of her photographic skills and artistry. Many of the other photos, which comprise the largest part of her body of work, are of the Amsterdam harbor and Schiphol airport. A larger exhibit of the work of Annemie and her German-Jewish architect husband, Helmuth Wolff, is planned to be exhibited at the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam in October 2016, and later at the Jewish Museum of Munich.

Concurrent with the San Francisco exhibit, the Federation and its partners are organizing lectures, a film series, and a brief study guide made for students who will view this exhibit. There will be two public screenings of Last Portraits (Selfmade Films, Netherlands 2015), a new Dutch film directed by Rudi Boon about Annemie Wolff and several of the stories behind the photos featured in the exhibit. Watch the trailer here.

Thank you to our generous sponsors

We would like to express our deepest appreciation to the following sponsors of the exhibit for their support:

  • The Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • Holocaust Education/Memorial Fund of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund 
  • Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
  • Jewish Community Library
  • The Netherland-America Foundation
  • The Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund
  • San Francisco Humanities, Inc.

To learn more about the discovery of these 1943 photos, please visit the Wolff Foundation’s website: http://www.stichtingwolff.nl.

Organized By: 
Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund
Goethe Institut, San Francisco
Wolff Foundation, Amsterdam
Event Contact Person: 
Jacqueline Shelton-Miller, Exhibition Chair

David Katznelson