But there was another side of Austria’s work that has been unknown until recently: images of survivors returning from Westerbork transit camp; a series of photos of Jewish Romanian war orphans, and, significantly, a whole file of pictures of the Secret Annex, Anne Frank’s now-famous hiding place behind a moveable bookcase of an Amsterdam canal house, now the Anne Frank House museum.
Researchers at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam discovered these images in the last couple of years when they went back into Austria’s archives. The resulting exhibition, “Maria Austria, Living for Photography,” on view until September 2nd, is “the first time we can give a total picture” of Austria’s oeuvre, said Bernadette van Woerkom, curator of the exhibition, although the museum presented smaller exhibitions of her work previously, in 1989 and 2001. The exhibit is accompanied by the publication of an almost 800-page monograph of her pictures, by Martien Frijns.
Van Woerkom said that Austria didn’t publicly identify as Jewish after the war, and that most of her commercial work focused on “positive” topics, and were very “forward looking.” But as a survivor, who had lost a substantial part of her family in the Holocaust, she took a personal interest in capturing her own community in images that she may have kept more for herself.
“During the 1940s and ’50s there were Jewish photographers working in the Netherlands, but from the outside they never talked about their Jewishness, or their hiding, or their war traumas, nothing,” said Van Woerkom. “Before, say, 1980, Jewish people in Holland hardly spoke about the war, it was too painful, and the traumas were too great. From the outside they were very assimilated. But now, we dive into their archives and we see that they were interested in the Jewish world around them.”