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The exhibit “Sweet Home Sweet: A Story of Survival, Memory and Returns” that recently opened at the Zekelman Holocaust Center and will be there until December 24, came to Farmington Hills from the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków.


The exhibit focusses on the life of the Holocaust survivor Richard Ores and his family. Richard Ores was born in Kraków in 1923 to a well-to-do assimilated Jewish family, survived the Kraków Ghetto, then the Płaszów Camp and a series of concentration camps. After the war he settled in the US and worked as a doctor in the Veterans Hospital in New York. He died in 2011.

“Sweet Home Sweet” tells a fragmented but somewhat comprehensive story, through Richard’s photos and videos, as well as the voices of his children and grandchildren (Richard was married three times and had five children).

It is a “triumph of the human spirit story”, but what might sound like a cliché, gains a deeply personal meaning, thanks to the exhibit’s videos and testimonials. In his account, for instance, Richard’s son David talks about the “eternal soup” that was always available on the stove when he was growing up, about the 1200 cans of food in the pantry, or the kids having the freedom to do whatever they wanted, as long as they did not scream or wear striped cloths. All of these quirky details would have been just that, if not for our knowledge of Richard, David’s father, a Jewish survivor of the horrors of the camps.

“Sweet home sweet” is not a story of a Polish Jew saved thanks to the efforts of Poles.

For Poles, however, the exhibit is interesting also because Richard Ores, who at a time when many Jewish Holocaust survivors would not even consider setting foot in Poland, not only visited Poland many times, but also brought his family there again and again, hence passing on his memories and love of Poland to subsequent generations. In the photographs and films, we see, for instance, his daughter in a Krakowian folk costume, or the family visiting Richard’s hometown, Kraków.


In the exhibit, Richard’s two “sweet homes” are very aptly represented by having all the information available in two languages, Polish and English.

Once WWII was over, many people doubted if “normal” life was even possible after the atrocities and horrors of the war. How would you not be crushed, not lose your will to live when your relatives were killed, but you somehow miraculously were saved, even though every day, or even every hour, you could have died, due to exhaustion, hunger, illnesses or the whim of a German.

There is no one answer to this question.

“Sweet Home Sweet” is fascinating as it offers insight into one such saved life. We, the visitors, feel privileged to enter Richard Ores’ life, and are encouraged (also by the questions printed in the “Visitor’s Guide) to come up with some answers ourselves.

During the official opening that took place on Tuesday, July 9, guests had an opportunity to view the exhibit and listen to a short talk by Fred Ferber, a Holocaust survivor and – like Richard Ores – a prisoner in the Płaszów camp, who said: “The photography exhibit resonates deeply with me because the photos were a lifeline during the war. I kept my pictures, pictures of my family in my shirt sleeve; they were my only touchable link to home.”

Richard also brought photos of his family and friends to the Płaszów camp, and buried them there in a glass jar, which he was able to retrieve after the war ended. These photographs are a part of the exhibit as well.


Fred Ferber’s opening remarks were followed by an enlightening conversation between two curators, Tomasz Strug of the Galicia Museum, and Mark Mulder of the Holocaust Center. Tomasz Strug, while talking about the interest in Jewish culture and history which grew considerably in Poland during the last two decades, explained that even though there is not a single “Holocaust museum” in Poland, the entire country could be looked at as such a museum, due to what happened there during WWII. Poland, however, has very impressive museums of Jewish culture and history, with the biggest being Warsaw’s Polin, and Kraków’s Galicia. The fact that most people working in such museums are non-Jews, Strug attributed to the overall small population of Jews living in Poland (15-20 thousand).  Strug also explained the origins of the Galicia Museum, which was founded twenty years ago by the British photographer Chris Schwartz, himself of partially Jewish descent.

During the Q&A session nobody asked about the curious name of the exhibition, “Sweet home sweet”. One can speculate that it is a take on the expression “home sweet home”, and perhaps reflects the way Richard used English, as – like many immigrants – occasionally he misused words or mixed-up metaphors.

What we see in the prewar and post war photographs indeed could be called “sweet”: nicely dressed people enjoying themselves in Zakopane or at the Baltic Sea, Richard’s kids or he himself, clowning for the camera.

What is missing in the images – the trauma experienced during the war – can be pieced together from the accounts of Richard’s children and grandchildren. Like many survivors, their father reluctantly and very seldom talked about his life in the concentration camps. However, the numerous photos and videos which Richard enthusiastically and diligently took all his life could be looked at as an act of defiance, a rebellion against the fragility and “perishability” of life, as well as – during and after the war – his way of dealing with his traumatic experiences.

So, is there an irony in the title of the exhibit? We encourage our readers to answer this question themselves.



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