The portraits are larger than life, close-up, detailed photographs of Holocaust survivors.
“It’s important to me to put their faces up front,” says photographer Luigi Toscano. “So that when the visitor comes to look at the picture, they must see (the survivor’s) eyes.”
Toscano has taken close to 400 such portraits worldwide. About 70 of them will come to the National World War I Museum and Memorial from Friday through Oct. 6 in his traveling exhibition, “Lest We Forget.”
The display includes the seven survivors Toscano photographed in Kansas City earlier this year, such as Sonia Warshawski of Prairie Village, who was made famous in the documentary “Big Sonia.”
Toscano, who is German-Italian, was 18 and growing up in Europe when he traveled alone to Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp.
“I hoped there was someone there who could explain to me,” Toscano remembers. “I could not believe this had happened. It branded really deep in my mind.”
He did not immediately process the experience with art. He worked as a roofer and bouncer for years and only later became a photographer. The idea for a Holocaust remembrance project took shape in 2015.
“I know that I can say something with my camera,” Toscano said. “I decided to say this.”
In the United States, the exhibition has stopped at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., and at the United Nations in New York City, among other places.
Toscano now dedicates a significant portion of his professional life to traveling the world and meeting survivors. City to city, he listens to their stories and takes their portraits. He documents them with a sense of urgency: 74 years after the end of World War II, the last generation of Holocaust survivors is dying.
He also travels each time “Lest We Forget” opens in another city. “The experience when I show this exhibition is amazing,” Toscano said. “I am really happy that young people are also coming. I think this is another way for education.”
In Kansas City, “Lest We Forget” is presented by Goethe Pop Up Kansas City as part of the nationwide “Wunderbar Together: The Year of German-American Friendship,” in partnership with the World War I museum.
Toscano will appear at the exhibit’s opening ceremony at noon Friday. For more information, see theworldwar.org.