C.J. Pressma shares his creative journey and production of Witness to the Holocaust

C.J. Pressma and Family

By Stephanie Smith
For Community

This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the stories behind the generous capital campaign donors who make up the Wall of Honor 

Tapestry of giving in the Trager Family JCC. 

In the early 1960s, C.J. Pressma was a freshman at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. One of his classmates from the West Coast had quite a collection of landscape photographs that sparked Pressma’s interest in what would become a legendary career in photography and multi-media production.  

He began taking photos for the college newspaper and enjoyed the creative process. As it would happen, his first photo assignment landed him in the first racial demonstration of its kind in the northern part of the United States. He shot multiple photos of fire hoses spraying protestors that landed in Life Magazine. Even as a college student his extraordinary skill behind the lens became evident. 

After earning a master of fine arts from Indiana University, Pressma opened a photography school, Center for Photographic Studies, an alternative school of creative photography, in Louisville, that he operated until 1978. 

After closing his school, Pressma became interested in multi-media work. He then began his six-year journey to produce the famous seven-part multi-media documentary, Witness to the Holocaust – presented by Zanchor, National Resource Center. Pressma interviewed 112 Holocaust survivors in Israel, New York City, New Jersey, Chicago, Louisville and other locations.  

As he began research for the project, he discovered that the only photographic history of the Holocaust used to teach in schools included film strips. Pressma combined high-quality audio interviews with stunning photographs to create a lasting tribute and historical account of this horrific human tragedy. 

Pressma says, “This project chronicles an important life-changing event in Jewish history and it was a story that needed to be told from the perspective of survivors.” 

He concludes, “The universal value of the Holocaust story is that you can teach young people about this important part of Jewish heritage, where they came from and how Israel was formed.” 

In 1984, Witness to the Holocaust was released in the United States and Canada where it remains in distribution today. One of the first productions to use survivor interviews as the exclusive content to tell the story of the Holocaust, Witness to the Holocaust has received numerous national awards.

We thank C. J. Pressma, a long-time friend and donor of the Jewish Federation of Louisville, for sharing his story with us. 

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