Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 19, 2019

Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away Exhibit at Jewish Heritage National Museum


By Ernest Barteldes

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A Transport Wagon used by Nazi Germany (Ernest Barteldes_

Outside the Jewish Heritage Museum in New York City a brown freight train wagon from the 1930s stands as part of the exhibition Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away. The wagon is one of many that was used by Nazi Germany to transport prisoners – mostly Jews deported from countries throughout Central and Western Europe that were either occupied by or allied to Hitler’s Germany.

As you enter the museum’s halls, you see a barbed-wire fence that once stood in Auschwitz – a stark reminder of the horrible conditions the prisoners faced. As you follow the exhibit, you go through many floors that follow history starting from the defeat of Germany in World War I, the establishment of an independent Poland in 1918 and the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which heavily punished Germany for starting the war and generated heavy resentment among its people along with a crippling economic crisis augmented by the 1929 stock market crash.

These and other factors  ultimately led to the rise of the Nazis, who came to power using rhetoric that blamed the elites – especially the Jews – for the country’s situation while also making impossible promises of prosperity to the German people.

We then go along the exhibition as Hitler rises to power and begins systematically stripping Jews from their rights until they are pushed into ghettos. As the war begins with the invasion of Poland in September of 1939, things progress quickly and the extermination camps – which would attempt to carry through the Final Solution – were established.

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Barbed Wire Fence (Ernest Barteldes)

The exhibit also reminds that it was not only about Jews but also all races that the German government thought inferior, including Poles, Bolsheviks (Russians), homosexuals and the Roma – many of whom were also murdered at the extermination camps, and they also mention the massacre of Poland’s intellectuals, POWs officers and leaders in Katyń by the Soviets under Josef Stalin’s orders, which was memorialized by Polish director Andrzej Wajda in his 2007 movie Katyń.

Incidentally, Katyń  became even more poignant for Poles in 2010 when a the presidential plane that was  carrying various dignitaries – including President Lech Kaczyński – crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk, where there would be a ceremony commemorating the massacre, killing all on board.

As the history progresses, eyewitness accounts on video (which can be heard on a portable device handed out at the beginning of the exhibit) detail the atrocities committed in Auschwitz/Birkenau, including the experiments carried out by Josef Mengele and the mass gassings and cremations that took place there.  There are many artifacts, including suitcases that the prisoners were forced to leave behind, shoes and prisoner uniforms, among other things.

As you exit the exhibit, you see the image of a smiling elderly woman, a lucky survivor that went through all those horrors and lived to tell the tale. On the color video loop, she seems to be preparing food – a luxury that she certainly didn’t have when her life was seen as worthless by her cruel, heartless captors.

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A Prisoner Uniform

This exhibition is important for many reasons – one of them is the fact that many people are forgetting about the Holocaust – in fact, according to a recent study, 40 percent of millennials, and many youngsters in major European countries know little or nothing about Auschwitz. Another is that not everyone has had the chance to actually visit the former camp in the Polish town of Oswiecim, so this is an opportunity to experience up close what millions have traveled thousands of miles to see since the camp was dedicated as a memorial in 1947.


Responses

  1. Nicely done Ernest!!! Thank you for sharing this with me.

    • Thank you! This history is important and cannot be forgotten


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