Yaffa Eliach, Historian Who Captured Faces of the Holocaust, Dies at 79

Historians in the News
tags: obituary, Yaffa Eliach

Yaffa Eliach, who as a 4-year-old survived the Nazi massacres of Jews in her Lithuanian town, and went on to document their daily life in a kaleidoscopic book and a haunting, three-story canyon of photographs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, died on Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 79.

Her death, after a long illness, was confirmed by Thea Wieseltier, a family friend.

After a childhood that might have throttled a person of lesser spine, Professor Eliach (pronounced EL-ee-akh) dedicated herself to the study and memorialization of the Holocaust and its victims.

Starting in 1969, she did so as a professor of history and literature in the department of Judaic studies at Brooklyn College, and by founding the pioneering Center for Holocaust Studies at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn. Though modest in scale, its collection of taped interviews, diaries, letters, photographs and artifacts became a model for dozens of such centers.

Her mission, she said many times, was to document the victims’ lives, not just their deaths, to give them back their grace and humanity. She determined to do so as a member of President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on the Holocaust during a visit to the death camps, where she realized that the victims were portrayed only as bulging-eyed skeletons in ragged striped uniforms, not as the vital people they once were. ...

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