SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Portraits of people now line San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza. People who a share a nightmare. They survived the Nazi holocaust.
"Very powerful. Extremely powerful. For everyone to see and associate the horrible past we went through and put a face on it," said Ilse Alexander, a holocaust survivor who lives in San Francisco.
She is one of about 15 Bay Area survivors whose face is part of a traveling exhibit called "Lest we forget."
Alexander was nine years old living in Vienna, Austria when one day she was no longer allowed in school because she was Jewish. Nazis imprisoned her and her mother. They sent her father to a concentration camp.
"I remember asking my mother why are we behind bars. We didn't do anything," said Alexander.
She and her immediate family survived, unlike most of her extended family.
"I lost most of relatives. And I am just so grateful and I am in awe of God that he still lets me be here to tell this story," she said.
It is her story and so many others, that German photographer Luigi Toscano wants people to understand in this international traveling exhibit.
It features Holocaust survivors from around the world and in the city where the exhibit is on display. It's a way for people to look a holocaust survivor directly in the eye.
"When you see someone in the face you look at the faces, you cannot go away. When you read it's a Holocaust survivor, that touches you," said Toscano.
Ben Stern, who lives in Berkeley, survived nine concentration camps. "It makes me feel it was worth it for me to survive and further the word of friendship. And eliminate hatred," said Stern.
While to many the holocaust may seem like ancient history, the anti-Semitism that spawned it has never gone away. A mass shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people happened less than six months ago. And someone painted swastikas in a San Francisco park just days ago.
"I don't know what the answer is but it is raising its ugly head," said Alexander.
Many hope public displays such as this can create an awareness and perhaps an understanding. "This is my hope, that people start the motivation to do something," said Toscano.
The exhibit will be here through May 19. Then it's off to Seattle.
As one Holocaust survivor said, if you don't learn about the past, there is no future.