It is with great sadness that I read recently of the passing of Roman Halter.
I first met Roman at the Imperial War Museum, where his personal story is told in The Holocaust Exhibition. After I left the Museum, we continued to write to each other and occasionally meet up for coffee to chat about a variety of subjects, notably museums, architecture and where to get good food in north London.
When working with people in a museum context who have survived something as disturbing and life-changing as the Holocaust, it is sometimes easy to pigeon-hole them. They can perhaps be seen as Holocaust survivors and nothing else. Roman was one of the first survivors I met who really helped me to understand that although people may have lived through and witnessed terrible events as young people, they also have gone on to lead rich, diverse and fulfilling lives afterwards. The Holocuast is only part of a survivor’s life. And it happened 60 years ago – so much more has happened since then.
Roman is remebered today as a survivor of the Holocaust, yes, but also as an architect, a designer and an artist. And as a father and grandfather. It is perhaps fitting that the legacy he leaves behind is a physical one – there are countless Halter stained-glass windows around the world today and I am very proud to have one of his paintings hanging in my study as I write – and an historical one in terms of his personal story during the Second World War. I hope that his story is not forgotten, and that his art continues to inspire people to create beautiful things as well.
Indeed, it is at sad times like these that I am reminded of the power that museums and collecting institutions have in preserving the experiences and memories of people who have lived through periods which have shaped our world. Oral histories, personal possessions and documentary evidence all ensure that we won’t forget stories like this and we won’t forget people like Roman.
On the subject of collecting stories, Roman was kind enough to take part in my ongoing research project into the nature of happiness – a world away from museums, but still a project based around collecting stories. I visited him at his home in 2008 and we chatted for a few hours about his life and experiences in relation to happiness. You can read the interview on this website here. In April 2009 he also sent me a hand-written note with some further thoughts on happiness.
The interview was picked up by The Telegraph, who quoted my conversation with Roman in his obituary, which you can also read here to get a fuller picture of his life.