Memory & Action
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Memory & Action

Stories from a Tower of Faces: The Toddler

Avigdor Katz might be one of the best-documented victims of the September 1941 massacres in Eisiskes, now part of Lithuania. His parents, Yitzhak and Alte Katz, owned the photography studio in the town. Most of the more than 1,000 images in the “Tower of Faces” at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, were taken by the Katzes.

Studio portrait of Avigdor Katz, son of Eisiskes photographers Yitzhak Uri and Alte Katz, circa 1930. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of the Shtetl Foundation

The photograph above was taken in 1930, when Avigdor was about four years old. Others show him held by an older sister, posing in an heirloom sled, walking proudly through the town square with a new bike. Parents today can relate to the urge to record moments in a precious child’s life.

But Avigdor didn’t make it out of childhood. In June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, which had annexed Eisiskes a few years before. The Germans occupied the town, billeting for a short while in the building that housed the Katzes’ studio, the pharmacy, and a bakery. They were forced to wait upon their occupiers. Later, most of the Germans continued further east, while the “einsatzgruppen,” or mobile killing squads, remained.

A group of friends (including Avigdor Katz, seated lower right) stands on the steps of Alte Katz’s pharmacy circa 1933–38. To the right of the steps is the entrance to the bakery below street level. On the left is a display of photos from the Katz photography studio. — US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of the Shtetl Foundation

Nazi racial theory held that “non-Aryans,” were inferior, especially Jews, who were to be wiped out as the Germans claimed territory they believed was rightfully theirs to expand their “race.” That Avigdor was the third generation to live in his family’s building in Eisiskes meant nothing. On September 25–26, he, his mother, one of his brothers, and one of his sisters were shot and killed, along with about 4,000 other Jews from the local area, ending their more than 250-year-old Jewish community.

In honor of their bar mitzvahs, friends, Avigdor Katz (left) and Avremele Botwinik, pose for a photo on the steps leading to Avigdor’s house (also his mother’s pharmacy and photo studio) in 1939. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of the Shtetl Foundation

The genocide of Europe’s Jews began that summer and fall, as the German forces advancing into Soviet territory massacred Jewish communities. We have no photos of most of those victims. But the collection from Eisiskes shows that they had rich lives, love, and culture. By learning their stories, we memorialize all victims of the Holocaust.

It is thanks to Avigdor’s niece Yaffa that this collection exists. Learn more about the “Tower of Faces”:

Jewish Victims and Survivors from One Small Town
The Youth Group
The Rabbi
The Sisters
The Soccer Players
The Guardian of Memory

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