“Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” is a massive exhibit of more than 1,000 artifacts and photos from more than 20 countries. This important exhibition opens today, May 8, 2019, the anniversary of VE Day, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan.
More than one million innocent souls were murdered in Auschwitz, including more than 250,000 children, in a twisted government policy of racism and anti-Semitism.
Auschwitz is a testament to our cruelty to fellow humans.
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is a must-see and must experience, especially now when shootings at houses of worship seem to be on the rise.
NYCOTC Editor Evelyn Kanter got a preview of this compeling exhibit.
There are cases of shoes, eyeglasses, shaving brushes, pots and pans – everyday items collected from those condemned to die.
And suitcases, some of them clearly marked with the name and address of the owner, who expected to claim it at the end of a forced trip in a crowded boxcar, like the one on display at the entrance to the museum.
The Nazis lied, of course, telling Jews they were being “resettled”, to keep them calm and prevent panic. We all know now that they were being “resettled” into extermination camps like Auschwitz, where few survived.
There are uniforms worn by Auschwitz inmates, and gas masks worn by Auschwitz guards.
And original barbed wire from the fencing around the death camp – where relatives of my own father died.
There is a torah saved from Kristallnacht, and smuggled into the US in 1940 by a Holocaust survivor. It’s from the Borneplatz Synagogue in Hamburg, which was largest in Northern Europe until the Nazis tore it down.
Many of the items have never been displayed before in North America.
Some come from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, on the site of the old death camp, which is visited by more than two million people every year.
Some artifacts and photos are some from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which has received thousands of donated items by Holocaust survivors who settled in New York City.
And others from more than 20 lending institutions around the world, .
They will all tug at your heartstrings, and make you ask the questions
How did this happen?
Can it happen again?
But it is the stories behind those items that will sear your heart. This Auschwitz exhibition focuses on the stories.
There is an embroidered blouse, worn by a woman murdered in what is now Lithuania, saved by another woman whose task it was to sort through the belongings of the dead.
There is the armband, with a now-faded Jewish star, and a photo of the man who wore it, Lazar Chaim Birnnaum.
There is a trumpet, played by Louis Bannet, a famous jazz musician of the time who was known as the “Dutch Louis Armstrong”.
He was part of an orchestra of professional musicians who played for the slave laborers mornings and evenings, on their way to and back from work details. And he played at executions, “to drown out the screams”, the plaque beneath his says.
And there is a photo of Nazis in uniform being serenaded by another Nazi in uniform playing an accordian.
There is a child’s shoe, with a sock neatly tucked inside, by a child who thought he would reclaim it after the “shower” all the children had to take.
And there is a small metal square, a peephole, perhaps used by the Nazi guards to watch the progress of gassing the victims, including this child, and strings of the original barbed wire that surrounded the camp.
There are walls and walls of photos, of ordinary people living ordinary lives in cities all over Europe, before their religion brought them death at the hands of Nazi madmen.
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. also includes sections on the non-Jews discriminated against, including the Roma, also known as Gypsies, and the bi-racial children who were the products of Germany’s business interests in Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The photo of a beautiful young bi-racial boy struck me. What struck me even more was the description below it, attributed to some Nazi official – his name doesn’t matter, but the sentiment does.
“This is a living symbol of the most tragic betrayal of the White race.”
It is a fitting day to open this exhibit. VE Day. Victory in Europe day. The end of the madness. Or was it?
Anti-Semitism is on the rise again. Can it happen again?
The Nazis exterminated some six million Jews during during World War II, including an estimated 90 percent of all Jewish children in occupied Europe.
The Nazis exterminated another million or more “undesirables”, including political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, minorities, and people with disabilities, and bi-racial children.
For millions of Jews, the Holocaust ended at the death camps. Auschwitz was one of many death camps spread throughout Europe.
But this exhibit starts at the beginning, with the rise of the Nazis in the years before the war. Hitler did not act alone, and Auschwitz did not start with the gas chambers and crematoriums.
So visitors understand not just what the Nazis called “the Final Solution”, but why it happened.
There are testimonials on video, original barbed-wire fencing, and even an operating table with surgical instruments used, historians say, for torture and human experimentation.
The exhibit continues through the end of the year, serving as both a reminder and a warning.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage is the primary resource in the Tri-State area for teaching and learning about the Holocaust, and is the third largest Holocaust museum in the world.
It is at Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place, in Lower Manhattan.
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is a ticketed exhibit with timed entry. But you can stay as long as you like. There are audio tours and docent tours available. To see and read and watch everything will take two hours, more or less.
There are extended hours to accommodate the additional visitors expected.
- Sunday to Thursday, 19am to 9pm, last entry at 7pm.
- Friday, 10am to 5pm, last entry at 3pm.
For tickets and additional information, visit mjhnyc.org.