This photograph of children playing by the barbed-wire fence of the former death camp was taken in 1977.
Schmidt left Poland straight after the war, together with his parents, who survived the Holocaust, and knew about his home country only from their stories. He grew up in Venezuela, and later moved to the United States, where he graduated in mathematics, obtained a doctorate, then became a lecturer. Years later, he admitted that he only did so as he was unable to make a living purely from photography. He experienced a breakthrough in his way of thinking in 1973, when André Kertész selected two of his photographs for the annual exhibition of the American Society of Magazine Photographers. This gave him confidence and, two years later, he travelled to Poland as a photographer, assisting in film production and taking pictures for advertising and magazine covers. During that period, he also created works he planned to use in exhibitions and albums. Through his portraits of people, he was searching for emotions.
His ability to work freely in a country controlled by the communists was secured by his American Society of Magazine Photographers press credentials. They allowed him to observe miners and shipyard employees at work, and photograph politicians having fun at harvest festivals, but also poverty and hardship on the streets. He described his non-commercial pictures as humanistic photography.
In the above photograph, he portrayed the carefree play of children born after the Second World War. A boy frozen in movement is giving a signal – full speed ahead! – as the watchtowers fade into the background.
In an interview from 1995, when asked what inspired him in Poland, the photographer admitted:
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018