This past week, I was invited* to come visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage to experience the exhibit Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away. while here in New York City.
I have, for as long as I can remember, gravitated towards historical accounts of Holocaust survivors and am familiar with so many stories they bravely share. I grew up with neighbors that had been sent to Auschwitz. I believe it is so important to hear these stories and keep this atrocity in the forefront of our minds to prevent it from ever happening again.
I went to the museum very familiar with the concentration camp and brought my son with me, as I felt it would be a great opportunity for him to learn more about it, as well, especially since it would be a part of his school curriculum this year. When we arrived at the museum, I was overwhelmed to see one of the actual freight cars used by the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German National Railway).
Once inside the museum, there were hundreds of artifacts, photos, and documents that would explain the climate of antisemitism in Europe as early as the 14th century through World War I, which would lead to the rise of the Nazi party and the onset of World War II. Each part of the exhibit helped us take the steps to see how one event impacted the next, eventually leading to the invasion of Poland and the escalation of atrocities that took place during that time period.
The focus of the exhibit was on Auschwitz, so there was a wealth of information displayed here, unlike any other exhibit I have seen before. In fact, this exhibit is the largest ever in North America, featuring items on loan from personal collections and over 20 institutions all over the world. These details are not easy to hear or see, but must be shared to understand the horror that was allowed to take place. “Auschwitz didn’t start with gas chambers. That is only the very final step of a very long process,” said the exhibition’s director, Luis Ferreiro. “Hatred doesn’t build overnight. We need to explain the road to Auschwitz so people understand how its existence was possible.”
Personal stories and possessions, including those of young children in the camps are haunting. This is a very emotional and powerful exhibit that I highly recommend visiting. You can take a self-guided tour, with or without audio, to explore the exhibition. It is in lower Manhattan at the Museum of Jewish Heritage now until January 3, 2020. It is a valuable experience to go to and one that can open up a deeper dialogue between children and parents, helping them understand what is taught in history and how their actions can impact the future.
The museum actually has several resources that I felt were great to share to explain the Holocaust in an age-appropriate manner for parents and teachers. Interviews, stories and lesson plans can be found on their site. They are very well done and help us to educate a younger generation.
To learn more about Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away. visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage online.
*I was invited to visit the museum to facilitate a feature, all opinions are my own.