Montclair Photographer Explores Her Family’s History


beth bursteinYou may know Montclair photographer Beth Burstein by her pet portraits. Recently, however, she has taken on a far more difficult and personal subject: her father’s experience in a concentration camp.

Next month, her compelling photo essay, The Legacy: A Daughter’s Experience of the Holocaust, will show at the JCC MetroWest in West Orange. The exhibit is comprised of two parts: The Family Heirloom illustrates her familiarity with her father’s concentration camp uniform through close-ups of its frayed fabric and worn buttons. There is also a provocative self portrait of Burstein wearing the uniform which was kept in a closet in the house where she grew up. After Burstein took the photographs of his uniform, her father donated it to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington.

The second part of Burstein’s exhibit, I Thought It Would Feel Like Home, illustrates and narrates a family trip to Lithuania in 2005 where she looked for evidence of her father’s hometown of Kaunas and its vibrant Jewish community. Despite finding very little to document the existence of pre-Holocaust Jewish Kaunas, the trip honored Burstein’s father and the culture in which he grew up.

The Legacy accentuates the way the Holocaust, so deeply embedded in Jewish consciousness, affected many families in a profoundly personal way, depriving them of their own histories and memories.

The exhibit will open at the new Gaelen Gallery, located on the Cooperman JCC’s mezzanine level, on September 8 and goes through October 27. There will also be an opening celebration on Sept. 8 that day from 11:00am – 1:00pm.  On October 9, Burstein will discuss the personal significance of her work and her exhibit at 7:00pm.

The photo essay will also be available in hard copy and e-versions this fall.

Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 9:00am-9:00pm; Friday and Sunday, 9:00am-6:00pm; closed Saturday. For more information, please contact Lisa Suss at 973–530–3413 or  [email protected].


  1. I’m also a second generation Holocaust survivor. It’s a tough legacy, but so important to share these stories and portraits, especially as the remaining members of that generation pass on. Most of my own family’s stories were buried with those who were murdered, or the survivors who refused to share them, so I fuel my own ancestral history through what I find out from others. Thank you, Beth, for creating what sounds like a very powerful photo essay.

  2. Thank you Marlene and Erika. Erika, stop by the opening on Sept. 8, or my talk on Oct. 9 and introduce yourself to me if you’d like. It’s always nice to meet another 2G’er.

  3. I have a family of ghosts which I’ll never know. Pieces of stories about hardship and murder. No one remains whole when the fragmented past haunts you for the truth.

    When I saw the movie “Everything is Illuminated” I realized we are all looking for that spark in the darkness to bring peace of mind.

    Humans are too complicated for words of understanding.

    Being a photographer, I realize the “decisive momment” brings us fleeting happiness/sadness then it is lost to a million interpretations including our own re-takes as we grow through life.

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