Have you ever heard of Abraham and Eva Beem?
It Started with the Impact of a Snapshot
Over the weekend, I was doing a little research into my family name. My Aunt Dorothy collected a fair amount of Beem family genealogy and shared it with me. I know that my own brand of the family tree has been in America for quite a while.
The story goes that one of my ancestors (George Beem) was an aide to General Washington in the Revolutionary War. I'm skeptical. Just imagine how many people claim to have ancestors connecting with Washington. However, it does seem to flow down a bit:
Although I haven't really established the connection yet, I believe that George Beem at the top of the list is a descendent of Michael Beem who immigrated from Germany.
It's easy to understand how some of these old records can disappear over time, but I'm more impressed by how often you can find a historical record that's been kept for centuries.
What does this have to do with photography? I found something that possibly takes my family history in a different direction. It's the story of two children who died in the Holocaust at Auschwitz.
The Story of Abraham and Eva Beem
Abraham and Eva Beem lived in The Netherlands, children of parents who were active in the Jewish community.
Their parents, Hartog & Rosetta Beem went into hiding and sent their children to Christian friends to live under assumed names. It worked for a couple of years until they were betrayed.
The Germans paid rewards to people who turned in Jews. One night, police came to arrest the children and their foster parents. They claimed they weren't Jewish, so the police forced young Abraham Beem to undress and his penis gave him away.
The Death of Abraham and Eva Beem
Abraham and Eva Beem were murdered in Auschwitz on 6 March, 1944.
Their story, like so many others during the war, is tragic and heartbreaking. I've always had an interest in history and have read numerous reports just like this one. The difference is that I've always read them before as an outsider, looking in at someone else's story.
For the first time, I've come across a Holocaust story that very likely has a connection to my own family. Had it just been a story with the name “Beem”, I would've been intrigued. The part that drives this home is the photograph.
The Photo Says What Words Can Never Tell You
I look at these two children and I instantly see family features. The book my Aunt Dorothy sent is full of family photos and it's not hard to pick out the folks with a Beem family gene compared to their other loved ones in the images.
It's no different than looking in the mirror and seeing parts of my father in the reflection. We're an unmistakable lot.
I wouldn't have this connection had it not been for the photographs. Yes, our common family name tells me that there's likely a connection, but actually seeing someone with those family features drives the story home for me.
Our family photographs, even snapshots, may have impact on someone else in the future. I'm in a very different line of the family, but the images make me feel close to people who were long past before I was ever born.
It also raises some questions for my own history. For one thing, I've never heard any mention of our family being Jewish. It makes me wonder if there was a split before part of the family moved to America, or if the difference came from other issues.
I may not be able to prove the link in our families. As I mentioned, I'm having a hard time establishing the link to Michael Beem, which would seem necessary to establish a line down to the Dutch Beem family.
On the other hand, I don't feel that I have to prove it in writing now. The photograph tells me everything I need to know that the connection is real.
The Impact of a Snapshot
Many photographers, myself included, tend to dismiss snapshots. We're always talking about photography as an art and I really do think that's important. With a snapshot, you're just documenting someone.
A portrait reveals character, interest and art. I still believe that's true and it's what I strive to accomplish with my photography.
However, a case like this reminds me that it's not so terrible if a photograph is just a document.
If someone hadn't taken these snapshots, I'd have nothing but names on paper to connect Abraham and Eva Beem to my own family. Like so many things with text, it lacks expression and tone.
You cannot ignore the photograph, though. Perhaps people who don't know my family members aren't familiar with it, but there's a Beem family face that's unmistakable and these children have it.
Without the snapshot, that vital information would be lost forever.
So take your snapshots. Save and share your memories. People down the line may appreciate it in ways you can't anticipate now.