Missing Generations: Photographs by Jill Freedman

Missing Generations: Photographs by Jill Freedman
March 19–July 16, 2023

Jill Freedman (b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1939–d. New York City, 2019), Auschwitz 1. Tourist family entering gas chamber, 1994. Gelatin silver print, 8 1/2 x 12 11/16 in. (21.6 x 32.2 cm). Courtesy of the Jill Freedman Family Estate.

This exhibition includes thirty-six black and white photographs by noted street photographer Jill Freedman documenting sites of destruction and the resurgence of Jewish life after the Holocaust in Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic. Not previously exhibited, the images in Missing Generations: Photographs by Jill Freedman capture the milestone events that took place beginning with commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, including the return of many survivors for observances in Warsaw and at Auschwitz.


Freedman went to Poland in April 1993 to mark the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. As she wrote, she undertook the journey as a pilgrim “to mourn the dead, to honor them,” along with the “survivors, their children, old soldiers and witnesses.” She returned to many of these sites the next year after receiving a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation (APF). Founded in 1965, the APF supports the work of journalists. In her application for the fellowship, Freedman wrote that she wanted to expand her project. She sought to meet survivors and document their “gatherings, their faces, their stories, their interactions.” Freedman noted the urgency of this endeavor at a time when, once again, “ethnic cleansing” was being perpetrated in Europe and “historical revisionists” were denying the Holocaust had ever happened. 


On her trips, Freedman also visited and photographed residents of a Jewish nursing home in Szeged, Hungary; the Terezín (Theresienstadt) camp in former Czechoslovakia; the death camps, Majdanek and Treblinka; the Jewish quarters in Kraków and Prague where the oldest synagogue in Europe is located; and a summer camp in Szarvas, Hungary, where Jewish children from Eastern Europe learned about traditions that had been nearly annihilated. She also made portraits of survivors in Florida, in the United States.


Freedman titled her project The Holocaust, 50 Years Later when she proposed it to APF. She also was planning a book using many of the same photographs that were published in a series of four photo essays she contributed in 1996 to the Foundation’s journal, The APF Reporter. She modified the original project title for her book, calling it Missing Generations: 50 Years Later. Freedman wrote all the text for the planned publication and included poetry and quotations from Holocaust historians. She also designed it with images ordered and juxtaposed to convey her point of view. For example, she highlighted her concern for the way in which many formerly Jewish areas, as well as the camps themselves, had become tourist destinations. The images include poignant portraits of survivors returning to the places they had been imprisoned, like Roman Ferber, one of the youngest Jews on Schindler’s list, photographed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Other images focus on the remnants of Jewish communities trying to rebuild, such as the opening of a Jewish kindergarten in Prague.


The photographs in this exhibition have been chosen from the more than eighty images that Freedman had included in Missing Generations, which was left unpublished at the time of her death. They have been generously lent by the Jill Freedman Family Estate.

All images © Jill Freedman Family Estate.

Jill Freedman in Jewish Cemetery, Poland, 1993

Jill Freedman was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 19, 1939, to Ross and Selma Freedman, a traveling salesman and a nurse, respectively. She grew up in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood and majored in sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. When she graduated in 1961, she went to Israel and lived and worked on a kibbutz, then as a singer in Jerusalem before moving on to Paris and London. She returned to the United States and settled in New York City in 1964. She worked as a copywriter but in 1966 she borrowed a friend’s camera and was instantly smitten with photography. She was self-taught and best known for her street and documentary photography, recalling the work of André Kertész, W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Devastated by the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968 she joined the Poor People’s Campaign march to Washington, D.C., and documented the encampment, called Resurrection City, set up by the demonstrators on the National Mall. These images appeared in Life magazine and were her first to be published. In 1971, she helped to found Soho Photo Gallery in a loft on Prince Street and West Broadway along with other photographers and showed there in 1972 and 1974. In 1975, she traveled with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus and from 1975 to 1977 lived among firefighters in the South Bronx and Harlem covering their work. Her next project was with New York City police officers from two Manhattan precincts.

Freedman lived in the Village, on Sullivan Street, in New York City. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988 and her rent tripled in the early 1990s, she moved to Miami Beach, Florida, where she lived for more than a decade. She returned to New York around 2003 and lived on the Upper West Side. Freedman died of complications from cancer on October 9, 2019.

Freedman’s work is included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; International Center of Photography, New York, New York; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; The Jewish Museum, New York, New York; George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; New York Public Library, New York, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; and Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France, among others. Her photographs have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions internationally and have appeared in many prominent publications, including Life, Fortune and The New York Times.

Several posthumous exhibitions have been held, including Jill Freedman–A Memorial Exhibition at Soho Photo Gallery, New York, New York, in 2019; Street Cops at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, New York, New York, in 2021, and Jill Freedman: Social Documents, 1968–1988, at Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, Canada, in 2022. Firehouse: The Photography of Jill Freedman is on view at the New York City Fire Museum in Lower Manhattan through summer 2023. Her work was also included in the group exhibitions Picturing People, at the National Gallery of Ireland, in 2021, and Poor People’s Art: A (Short) Visual History of Poverty in the United States at University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, Florida, in 2023.

She published seven books: Old News: Resurrection City (1970); Circus Days (1975); Firehouse (1977; 2022); Street Cops (1981; 2022); A Time That Was: Irish Moments (1987); Jill’s Dogs (1993), and Ireland Ever (2004). In addition to Missing Generations, Freedman planned two additional photography books at the time of her death, Madhattan and Patriot Acts.
A Few Days with Jill Freedman – A Short Film by Pete Shanel (2019)

In 1994, Jill Freedman was awarded a fellowship by the Alicia Patterson Foundation to expand the project that would become Missing Generations.


Click here to view the original stories.


This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Add Your Heading Text Here