The Powerful Must-See Auschwitz Exhibit in NYC: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away
Earlier this year I got a chance to visit the new Auschwitz Exhibit in NYC: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away. You can check out the highlights of my visit on my Instagram page (under highlights).
The exhibit isn’t merely a collection of artifacts. It tells stories. When you arrive at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, the first thing that will strike you is a wooden train car. A train cart in the middle of skyscrapers. A train car like the one that transported millions of Jews across Europe to extermination camps. You immediately know this isn’t going to be like any other museum exhibition you’ve ever been to.
Not Long Ago Not Far Away is the title of the exhibit, which first opened in Spain and had a very successful run. That title reminds us that THESE atrocities didn’t happen centuries ago… in fact, it hasn’t even been 100 years since the horrific events. It didn’t happen in another planet, it didn’t happen in Europe. The exhibit starts by showing you how Jews were members of society: They had businesses, houses of worship, they went to school, they were like any other members of society. Some of them were even German, but none of that mattered. You’ll see a desk of a Jewish businessman, you’ll learn what kind of trades they were in.
The entire exhibit descriptions are in English and Spanish.
And then, slowly, you see how society starts transforming Jews into scapegoats; slowly taking away their rights. It’s a gradual process, so gradual that others probably don’t see anything wrong with it. People see their neighbors being taken away, or businesses being labeled “Jewish store” and they just see it as “It’s the law.” So many people didn’t bat an eye, they just turned their heads. Just like people are turning their heads now, when the administration does something like make it harder for immigrants with legal status to get benefits. These are rules being put in place to make it harder for immigrants to live, just like the Germans made it hard for Jews to live in the beginning.
While I was exploring the exhibit, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to what is happening now in the United States. The similarities are eery.
I learned disturbing facts that showed the brutality of the acts committed. For example, I was struck by the fact that when taken from their homes, Jews were allowed to pack. As if they were going somewhere where they would be relocated. How cruel is that?
Seeing the artifacts of what people had taken with them, I couldn’t help but think… what would I take with me? Pictures? Letters? If I had to flee and put everything in a tiny suitcase or backpack, what would I take? Some people took combs, perfume bottles, they packed with care, as if they were simply being relocated, because that’s what many of them thought.
You’ll see piles of shoes, you will see baby clothes and baby toys. Because babies were taken as well. Babies were separated from their parents.
While you’re walking you will read or listen to testimonies of people who were there and survived; who know tell their story, before the world forgets.
You walk through the exhibit and you see how the Jewish people were dehumanized. And it happens slowly. Things like, “Jews can’t go to these public places.” Jews VERBODEN. How chilling it is to see this. Jews must wear yellow stars. Those are the first steps. Their businesses are seized. Their belongings are taken. Families are separated.
They were stripped of their clothing, of their shoes, even their hair. They were given numbers which were tattooed on their forearms.
If you’re like me, you will leave the Auschwitz exhibition with profound sadness and so many questions. How could this happen? Why? Why did people look away?
and I think about this quote often. This exhibition almost feels like a warning… “be careful because if it happened before, it can happen again.” That’s what we should all walk away knowing, and that’s what we should work to avoid.