Before they were victims, they were a family.

So wrote my daughter Caroline, when she posted this picture.  We have had many a serious and sometimes contentious conversation about the unbearable weight of history carried by these pictures, and their best and highest purpose.

I could not be more proud of her honesty and eloquence here.  I know where Sala’s Gift has continued to give.


Mendel Garncarz (Sala’s brother) and family. Poland, 1938.

Caroline wrote:

I realize this explanation is long and I apologize. If you choose to reblog this picture, we understand if you edit the caption. Feel free to shorten it as you see fit for your blog, but we ask that you please keep the above description so that our family remains identified. I just wanted to give you some context for this and other photographs coming up.

These images were not taken by Sidney but they are cherished by him, handed to me in the same carefully curated photo album as his pictures from the war and his own family photographs. It seemed right to include Sala’s lifetime in photographs here as well.

Through Sala’s time in the concentration camps she managed to carry with her over 300 letters that she received from family and friends and a few precious photographs of her family before the war. She buried them in the ground behind her barracks to protect them, passed them to friends for safe keeping, and carried them with her as she traveled through seven camps over five years. Sala says that she saved these letters and photographs to keep her family alive.

These letters and photographs are all that remain of Sala’s large family. Only 2 sisters would survive the Holocaust. Their parents, siblings, nieces and nephews were all killed in the Nazi concentration camps, including Mendel’s family.


My mother, Ann Kirschner, is a historian and spent many years writing a book about Sala’s experience in the war based on the letters she saved. She and I had very different thoughts on sharing these images of Sala’s family before the war.

Ann was concerned that by posting these pictures they would become separated from their story – from both the fact that Sala’s family lost their lives for their faith and from the place that they hold in history. I am conscious of the fact that while the photographs Poppa and I post on this site represent our family history, they also reflect the world around Sidney and Sala in the 40s and 50s. I have tried to put the images on Pictures from Poppa in historical context when possible.

More than ten million men, women, and children perished in the holocaust, but their tragic deaths should not be the only part of their story told. They should also be remembered for who they were before the war. The idea of the Garncarzs being remembered as the lovely, happy family posing for this picture rather than as people who lost their lives in one of the most senseless ways imaginable appeals to me. Before they were victims, they were a family. I think it is important to remember that and am honored that we can share these pictures with you.

You can learn more about Sala’s story here.