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16 October 2014

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Raphael Schutzer Weissmann: That's Who I Am

That's Who I Am

By Raphael Schutzer Weissmann
September 2004,
A digital story from Who Do You Think You Are?

"My grandmother never spoke about her past. Almost as if her life had started once she arrived in England - and in a sense, it had.

I've always been curious about my family's past. As a child I remember my great Aunt telling me that my great grandfather was from Transylvania. My eyes lit up, as would any child when told that he maybe related to Dracula.

My grandmother died in 1994. Ten years later I noticed something written in her filofax ... and with my curiosity re-awakened; found there were questions I had to answer. I needed to make a journey - to retrace my family's past...

I looked at them, they looked at me. Handle bar moustaches, embroidered shawls. I was in a different world. The bus lurched off, the mud squelching. The sign appeared. I had arrived in my great grandfather's village, in the foothills of the Carpathians.

I travelled on to Bosnia. In 1914, Sarajevo wasn't a good place to be and my family moved to Budapest. But a quarter of a century later - under the fascists - Budapest was no longer safe for a Jewish family either. In '38/'39, leaving her parents and sisters behind, my grandmother left for London before the door closed. I'm sure she must have been anxious travelling through Europe on her way to the coast. Getting onto the ferry would have been a relief. She settled in West Hampstead, where I grew up and live today.

I was never completely sure where I belonged - I felt adrift between cultures. Since tracing the story of my grandmother, I feel more certain of my identity. My name is Raphael. I'm English and my roots go back in time and place to Eastern Europe... and that's who I am."


Please tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a photographer, specialising in portrait, stills and documentary photography. To date I've had a number of jobs to support my photography but look to work full time as a photographer in the not too distant future. I've been published in a number of newspapers and magazines and hope to continue this.

What's your story about?
This story is about a journey I made to Eastern Europe, tracing my family's past. By documenting my family's past and the journey they took I found things out about myself. I left Waterloo unsure of where I fitted in, caught between cultures, and returned confident of who I am and where I'm from.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
I started to document my family's past for a number of reasons. One was discovering some information written in my grandmother's filofax, the other being my grandmother's letters. With these clues I made a journey and in the process tell a story about my heritage and a journey that my grandmother made.

Any additional comments?
I've been interested in filmmaking for a while, a logical extension to my photography. I'm just about to embark on making a short film virtually all from stills with a friend and this has been a wonderful introduction. Creatively and spiritually enriching!

Your comments

"I am glad you made the journey, glad too that this gave you the opportunity to travel ,photograph and discover answers to your thoughts. I have seen a few of your remarkable images, would like to see more.With much love, your Mum.xxx" Darwin from North London, Sept 2007.

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