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Remembering Clemens Kalischer Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

16 June 2018

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Clemens Kalischer's father didn't hesitate. He moved the family to Paris. But, as Germans, they were required to register and were quickly arrested as enemy aliens. The 12-year-old boy, separated from his family, survived three years of forced labor in eight camps.

When the Vichy government, which collaborated with the Germans, came into power he found his father again but both of them were identified as Jews. Before they could be sent to a concentration camp, however, they found Clemens's mother and sister at a nearby farm and, with help from American journalist Varian Fry and others, emigrated to America in 1942.

Kalischer arrived in New York as a 21-year-old youth without skills or an education who spoke only German and French and weighed just 88 pounds.

He found a job as a copy boy at the New York bureau of Agence France-Presse getting coffee and doing word counts by hand. When then agency's photographer wasn't available to shoot the SS Normandie luxury liner arriving at 4 a.m. to be scrapped, an editor put a borrowed Rolleiflex in Kalischer's hands and sent him off to take photos.

He tried to stay as invisible as possible, he often told aspiring photographers.

When they praised his work back in Paris, he began to suspect he was a photographer.

He studied photography at Cooper Union and the New School for Social Research and by 1949 was freelancing for the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, Fortune, Du, and for the alternative press, including In Context and Common Ground.

He made his mark photographing humanity by slipping among arriving refugees and capturing the moment they reached America, a moment he himself never forgot. He tried to stay as invisible as possible, he often told aspiring photographers.

But his curiosity also took him to Harlem and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, coal mines in western Pennsylvania, Alpine villages in northern Italy and the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

He didn't look for an unusual moment but for "the moment that reveals it with crystalline clarity," as the art critic Miles J. Unger put it.

Despite his established career in New York, he decided he wanted to live in a little town. In 1956 he moved to Massachusetts and opened an art gallery.

He ran the Image Gallery in Stockbridge, Mass., for over 30 years, maintaining an archive of about 500,000 stock photographs. Both a photographer and teacher, he worked with Bennington and Hampshire colleges, Georgetown and Harvard. He was also an active member of One by One, an international dialogue group for survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust that seeks emotional healing.

He met Angela, his wife of 62 years, in the Berkshires. A native of Austria and fellow Holocaust survivor, she and Kalischer had two daughters, Cornelia and Tanya.

His daughter Tanya remembered, "Most of his life he wandered back roads and took what interested him. He was a total adventurer. I can't tell you how many times he drove a road because it was there. He'd say, 'I wonder what's down there?'"

In later years he was accompanied by a digital camera on those drives facilitated by a succession of Volkswagen buses.

But no longer. He passed away June 9 at his home in Lenox, Mass., at the age of 97.

"He's going to love heaven," predicted his friend Jarvis Rockwell, the son of Norman Rockwell, for whom Kalischer sometimes took photos. "He just loved people."

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