By Wandy Felicita Ortiz
This May, New York will become home to North America’s biggest exhibition dedicated to the history of the Auschwitz concentration camp and its’ infamous role in the Holocaust.
Entitled “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.,” the exhibit is set to open at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on May 8, the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) which marks the Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allies.
An exhibition preview held on May 2 coincided with the United States’ national Days of Remembrance, commemorating the Holocaust. The Days of Remembrance are observed between Sunday, April 28 and Sunday, May 5.
A select group had the opportunity to see the 700 items from Auschwitz in advance, donated to the museum by survivors, their families, and the families of victims, some of whom were and are New Yorkers.
New York City has deep ties to the Jewish faith as home to one of the largest Orthodox communities outside of Israel, and as a place of refuge for Holocaust survivors. Museum curators anticipate that the gravity and personal intimacy of the exhibit will be especially felt throughout the local community.
The collection includes an original freight train car used for the deportation of Jewish people to Auschwitz, electrified barbed wire fencing pulled from the concentration camp’s perimeter, and items from victims and survivors such as shoes, personal photos, religious texts, razors and hair brushes.
Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, was present at the preview and addressed those in attendance. He stated that although the public learned about Auschwitz 73 years ago through photographs, many generations have yet to see the concentration camp in its most authentic, truthful, and harrowing form.
“We made sure that the hair stuck to the barbed wire was here,” he said.
“You see it as it was like in 1945, not what it was like at its state in the 1970s. There is nothing we can do but let people see the horror of Auschwitz,” Lauder added. He cited the expansive exhibition as a learning moment for today’s young people who seem to have forgotten that anti-Semitism is still a dangerous and deadly ideology.
Lauder and others involved in the curation of the exhibit believe anti-Semitism is present in the here and now, merely taking different forms from what it had been in the1940s. For this reason, the Museum of Jewish Heritage finds it imperative to use the exhibit as a learning moment for those that do not know or have forgotten the inhumanity of Auschwitz.
Following their exhibition partner, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s credo of “Remembrance, Awareness, and Responsibility,” the Museum of Jewish Heritage now hosts yearly teaching sessions on the Holocaust. The museum runs the event in hopes that remembrance and awareness of the genocide move people of all backgrounds and faiths to take on the responsibility of ensuring such a tragedy is never repeated.
The exhibit, which will be on display from May 8, 2019-January 3, 2020, was originally housed in Madrid’s Arte Canal Exhibition Centre, where last year it became the most visited historical museum exhibit in all of Europe. “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” was made possible through collaboration with the exhibition center, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and the international exhibition firm Musealia.