[Transcript of interview with Lyn Robinson by Barbara Tabach, September 18, 2014]. Robinson, Lyn Interview. 2014 September 18. OH-02161. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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AN INTERVIEW WITH LYN ROBINSON An Oral History Conducted by Barbara Tabach Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ©Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2014 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV – University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcriber: Kristin Hicks Interviewers and Editors: Barbara Tabach, Claytee D. White iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas iv PREFACE One day in 2012, UNLV student Lyn Robinson spied a posting on the bulletin board for a photographer for the Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center. She was an art major with a concentration on photography. She was also had a deep appreciation of the horror of the Holocaust and what the survivors she would take photos of had endured. Thus began a two year project, during which she took photos of over sixty survivors. Her images are preserved at UNLV Special Collections & Archives. Prints are displayed at the Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center. On September 18, 2014, Lyn shared her work for this oral history recording. She is a native of Florida, daughter of a horticulturist father and pianist mother. v This is Barbara Tabach. Today is September 18th, 2014. I'm sitting in the Holocaust Resource Center (surrounded by the portraits taken by the narrator.) Lyn, if you would spell your name for the transcriber, which would be great. L-Y-N; Robinson, R-O-B-I-N-S-O-N. How did you get involved with the Holocaust Resource Center? Well, I was at school one day and I saw a posting on the bulletin board and it was asking for a photographer to get involved with a project. And I was interested in it because it had to do with the Holocaust and I thought that was important. I called the phone number and I talked to Myra [Berkovits] and she interviewed me and she liked me. Then I started taking pictures of Holocaust survivors. So where were you going to school? UNLV. What was your area of studies? Art. Concentration in photography and minor in art history. How did you decide that your passion lie there? Oh, it took a while. I started out with business and then nursing and then psychology, and that didn't suit me at all. I've been an artist my whole life; it just took me awhile to get there as a degree. But photography...it's a way to capture people and who they are. It's just something I love. This project is pretty awesome actually. So I was able to help capture these people. I think that there's different kinds of photography. Am I right? Oh, for sure. So explain that. What are the various types of photographers? Well, there's portrait and fine art. There's all kinds. This is digital. I wanted to try to do film, but it would have taken an immense amount of time. We tried actually. We did some experiments 2 with David, Myra's husband. We did a couple of film photos and we did some digital. And we decided that the digital was a little bit better, looked nicer. This is portrait, obviously. We also wanted to focus on who they are now and not what happened before. That's an important distinction, isn't it? Yeah. As you notice, they're all smiling. Happy. So were you part of that discussion about what the poses would be like? Well, yeah. What do you recall about the conversations that took place? With the survivors? Well, the conversation between—how did you set everybody up and explain to them—let me put it that way—what kind of photograph you wanted to have of them? They (the survivor) came in. They didn't really ask me questions when they came in. They just knew they were coming in for a photograph and that they were going to be on the Wall of Hope. So I would just talk to them as they would come in. They asked me where they wanted to be. I would talk with them, interact with them, ask them to smile real big. They seemed to like me, so they would smile at me. We got some really nice photographs. They're all really nice people. So it was pretty easy actually. Real cooperative subjects. So you didn't have any challenges in this project? No. Everyone was really very nice and kind and sweet, really very nice people. Amazing individuals. What did you learn about the individuals through this process? That they've gone through a lot. They've learned a lot. They've taught me a lot. That you can go through so much and grow and become an amazing person. Go through adversity and it won't bring you down. It will make you better. You can still go on no matter what happens. You can 3 lose a lot and still gain. You said that the posting had mentioned that it was Holocaust survivors and that that attracted you. Well, because I've heard people say some pretty dumb things about how Holocaust never happened. Have you ever heard people say stupid things like that? Yes, yes. That stuff bothers me. How can you say something like that? So I thought this would help to show you—I mean, come on. There's people who actually went through it. They're here. They're still surviving. Here they are. So I thought it was important to be a part of it and to show others that there are still people here. That it really did happen. Don't be ignorant. Do you have any personal experiences with anyone before the photography? Actually, Sasha [Semenoff.] – he actually passed away not too long ago. But I knew him before this. I worked at a restaurant. He's a violinist and he used to come in all the time and play his violin. He's a pretty neat guy. Yeah, I knew him before, but other than that, I didn't know any of them. What restaurant was that? Battista's Hole in the Wall. It's off Flamingo and the Strip. Any other stand-out memories of people coming in and you working with them? Sophie Ray was really...wow. Yeah, she's a...she dresses really outlandish. She's super. She likes to call me still. She likes extra copies of her photo. She likes to hand them out. So I do that. I took pictures of her dog for her, too, because she asked me to. Whatever they want. I give them what they need, what they want because they're cool people. Are you Jewish? No. However, my dad, he minored in religion studies. He wears a Star of David around his 4 neck. I don't know. He says all religions are related. So I don't know. Maybe a little bit, I guess. You were adopted into this project because everybody raves about you. Let's just walk around (the Holocaust Resource Center) and tell me a little bit about some of these photographs. Where shall we start? Where's the picture of Sasha? Over here? So did you like listening to Sasha? He's a really talented musician. With the dark glasses. He wore those all the time. DOUG UNGER: We had a book signing. An author's event here. Sasha was here signing his book. And actually we have a couple of copies here. Not five or six weeks later, I think, he passed away. Oh, how sad. He was a neat little guy. DOUG UNGER: Sasha could have been here fifty years, I think, in Las Vegas; something like that. A long time, almost forty-something years. Yeah. And I started working at Battista's in 1999. I've known him since then. So you had a long history there. And then when I started working at Nora's...that's when I started doing this project -- when I was at Nora's. I told him about it and he says, “I'm a Holocaust survivor.” And I said, “Come on, come be in the project.” You brought this up at the restaurant, that conversation? Yes, because he talks to me all the time. He always gets pasta e fagioli. He always sat at the (same) table when he'd come and hang out. He always liked to talk to me because he knew me from Battista's as well. He goes to all the Italian restaurants—or he did. It just came up in 5 conversation. I did not know he was a survivor until then because he never brought it up. I was going to say that would be unusual probably, wouldn't it, that somebody just...? Yeah. So I don't know. We were just talking, conversing because I'd just bring up stuff that I do. And then he's like, “Oh.” And I was like, “Well, then come let me take your photo; come be on the wall.” Absolutely. What were some of the other memorable people there? Judy Mack is a really nice lady. I took her picture a couple of times. She's like me; she doesn't really like to have her photo taken. So I had to get it right for her, but I didn't mind. You did a nice job. Thank you. I still don't think she likes her photo, but that's best one out of all of them. We're all so self-critical, aren't we? Oh, yeah, for sure. So what year did you start taking the photographs, do you know? Twenty twelve. So it was a long process. Sometimes we'd get a whole group of them to come at one time, but others I'd have to go to their homes. Some of them weren't very mobile. And I don't mind. I'm mobile. So I take all my stuff, set up, get the background down so they could all have the same background, and then get their address. It's kind of weird to have somebody come to your home that you don't even know. But they all were very welcoming; let me into their home, let me set up. I'm a stranger, but they would let me come in, invade their space. So that made me feel good. Like this stranger come into your house and take your photo? Well, you have a trusting personality for sure. But all these people were so very kind. It's just pretty cool. Well, they have a history. Benjamin Lesser—he's a really good guy, too. There was an event that they were having; they 6 were all giving a talk at a school, and he was there. That's where a bunch of people, we got to take their photos. So they were all giving a talk, letting kids know about bullying. That's another thing Myra does—has all the survivors come in and they talk about bullying to people. I think that's good, too, because obviously they know a lot about that. So I think that helps, too. Oh, she was so nice. And you're pointing at Ava. Ava, yeah. She's really kind, really frail, but so kind. I had to go to her daughter's house to take her photo. She's fairly new to Vegas, but she came out and I went to her daughter's house and took her photo. Really nice lady. So when you describe your work and what you've done here, how do you describe it? I try not to cry because I get emotional. I don't know. I feel like I've done something really good. I'm able to preserve them and show people that you can make it. No matter what happens to you, you can survive, go on. If they can do it, so can we. And hence, the smiles? It's an affirmation of life. Yeah, for sure. So how many photos have you taken total? I think there are sixty. Are there sixty? Sixty-five. You started to point at someone here? Oh, who is that other one? She's so cute. Ruth. Ruth. I went to her house, too. Just a few weeks ago. She was a couple of months ago. She was down off Boulder Highway. She's so cute. She's about to go to the casino. 7 Do they talk about why they moved to Vegas? No. I don't know why they come to Vegas. I never asked that question. She was really kind. She told me I had a trusting voice because she couldn't see me. Ida [Saltzer,] she was really cool. I enjoyed visiting with her. I actually stayed there for a little while. So when you do the photo session, do you spend time talking beforehand? Or how do you get them warmed up? Oh, I set up and I talk while I'm setting up. Let them know who I am because I am kind of invading their space. I'm not a mean person, so I think they can tell. I think they can tell that when I'm there. Do they ask you questions? Sometimes. Not always. I went to Tana's [Goodwin] house, too. She lives over off Sahara. She was really kind, too. Oh, John was the first one who passed away, John Stockton. He looks kind of tough, huh? He does. Yeah. But he was nice. It's all a front. So all the photos are taken with people looking pretty much straight on. Yeah. Well, except for—she wanted to be...she did that on purpose. I told her it was okay. Ziva [Harris.] She wanted to be like super model. And I was like, that's okay; if you want to; it's your photo. Whatever you would like to do. So as an artist, how did that make that decision that you were going to make them this way? It was actually Doug [Unger.] He wanted them to all have similar photos and that was fine with me. Just so that everybody—equal. And that's fine. I just wanted them all to be beautiful and I 8 think they are all beautiful. Oh, they are. They're beautiful. Because they're all beautiful people. So Doug, how did you make that decision about the composition of the photos? Well, we imagined that the photos would appear somewhat like they are and we didn't want anyone to appear to have a better position or a more favorable photograph, more of a close-up or one was too far away. So that was really the only instruction that I gave to Lyn was everybody should have the same size face in the photograph. And they pretty much do. It's amazing what a great job Lyn did because it's almost the identical shot for everybody over a two-year period. And some were here in the resource center; some were at their house. They have all different locations; yet, they all look like they were taken in the same place at the same time. It's like a beautiful collection. Well, there they make you stand on a dot, and so the camera is always exactly the same distance away. So Lyn had to do exactly the same thing, eyeballing everything at every location. You can see everybody does; no one appears to be a standout or a favorite. Everyone has the same position and the same really happy, pleasant smile, too. Were they given instructions about what to wear or anything else? It's their own choice. They're their own person. They decided what they wanted to wear and who they wanted to be. So I thought that was okay because you are who you are. Wear what you want to wear. Be who you want to be. You're standing behind Nathan and Daniel Safari, brothers. And their sister, too. Daniel [Szafra], and Simona, his wife. 9 Oh, that was his wife? I thought it was his sister. Maybe sister. I thought they were all brother and sister. I thought the wife, but I could be wrong. Maybe she's a sister. I'm going to find out, but I thought she was Daniel's wife. But maybe she is a sister. And then Uncle Bernie around the corner...this is David's uncle and aunt, Aunt Blanka and Uncle Bernie, have been here many times in the center. That's great. Yeah, Myra's husband [David Berkovits.] He is so cool. He was so nice to me. He was my first photo. Oh, he was? Yeah. Yeah, Dave was our test photo, right? Yep. Wasn't he? He was our first one. Actually, we took several of him. Oh, many. Film, digital. Yeah, we took a lot. Moving up and down in sizes. Yep. He let me use him as the first subject and I got to figure out what we were going to do. He was awesome, so kind. A great person. So do you get nervous each time you go in? No. Not—no. He broke me in. He broke you in well. [Laughing] Actually, she has come to my house and met my father. She is so cool, Sabina [Callwood.] She's interested in horticulture and I told her about my dad. And then she wanted to come over. 10 So we went and picked her up and brought her over and she was hanging out with my dad. So that was kind of cool. That's her brother. Samuel? Yeah. So what do you know about their stories, their full stories? I'm not asking you to retell their stories – but in general, what have you learned from this whole experience? That the Nazis are evil. They should have been stopped. I don't know why somebody didn't stand up and say something. I don't know why people don't stand up for others. I do when I see something bad happening. I don't know why people aren't stronger. I don't get it. I really don't. All you have to do is say, “No, stop that.” I mean all these people could have had different lives if someone had just said stop. They would have had more family around. But they are who they are because of what happened to them. So I don't know. I mean I definitely have learned a lot. Do they still teach about the Holocaust in school? I know we've had a lot of education funding cut. I mean I learned a lot about it when I was in elementary and middle and high school. Oh, you did? I did. But I had school in Florida. I didn't go to school out here except for UNLV. So I don't know what they teach out here. But I had to do reports on Hitler. I learned about that evil man. Plus, I have my parents and they're great people. So I know how I'm supposed to be. Other people I'm around, I don't think they know how they're supposed to be. Difference between right and wrong and all that. So I just figure I guess you're supposed to lead by example and if maybe people see that I'm doing the right thing, maybe they will, too. I'm sure. You're a great influence. How many of your friends know what you're doing? All of them. I tell people all the time. I'm like, “Go down; go see what I did.” So hopefully they do. And then when they did the reception, a bunch of my friends came down, too. 11 And the reception was just for the photos or...? There were tons of people here. It was just for the photos. My family was here. I had friends here. You must have been really proud. I was. Which you're not supposed to be prideful, but I was. That's okay. You did a good thing, very good thing. Is there any future for these photos? Other than hanging here, are there any other thoughts about what might be done with them? Several people have suggested that we take this as an exhibit on easels to the Lied Library. We'd love to do that. And so we were at the White Rose exhibit [July 2013.] We'd love to do exactly that. We bought easels for sixty-five pictures. I'd love to have an exhibit there. It would be great. I would take every one off the wall and move them over myself. Oh, they're going to UNLV? Well, we'd love to do that. So that's what Barbara said, what would you like to do? That's what we'd like to do. That would be a great project and a great place, I think, for all our photographs. Yeah, yeah. I think it has such impact to see the faces, the names, and to see not just a single person but a volume of people. It shows how close we all can come to... I would say the comment that I hear most from everybody after they see everyone's pictures are, “Where do all these people live?” And then I tell them they all live here in Las Vegas. It really takes everybody by surprise. I've been to a lot of their homes. Is there anything else you can think of that she should share with me about the photos? I can tell you what I would share with you was how lucky we were to find Lyn because this was a 12 real problem for us to find a photographer that we could afford and someone that would be versatile and be really expandable in her rules and vision. And we put Lyn through the test. We made her do everything. She went to some people's houses. She met people. She came here. It spanned over a two-year period. She couldn't have done a better job. They all look like they were taken the same day. So we were really lucky to find Lyn. Amen to that. It would not have been the same project without her. I framed them, too, huh? You what? I framed them, too. You framed them, too. Very nice. It's beautiful. I'm happy. Yeah, I'm happy. I'm happy that I met them all. That's good. That's a good comment. [End of recorded interview]