Freight cars were used to deport people to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. According to historians, up to approximately 80 people were crammed into a single boxcar.

The exhibit showcases hundreds of personal items that belonged to people killed at the Nazi concentration camp—including many that have never before been on display in this country.

Of the six million Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust, an estimated 1.1 million died at Auschwitz. 

Now, 74 years following the Nazi surrender on May 8, 1945 (which signaled the end of World War II in Europe), a major exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage will delve into this dark period in not-so-far-gone history.

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away traces the development of Nazi ideology, outlining the transformation of the Polish town named Oświęcim into Auschwitz. Curated by an international team of experts and historians, the 18,000-square-foot exhibition includes personal testimonies from Holocaust survivors as well as more than 1,000 artifacts recovered from Auschwitz. Among the items on display are a German-made freight wagon that was used to transport Jews to the extermination camp, plus suitcases, eyeglasses, shoes, and other belongings left behind by survivors and victims. 

The exhibition showcases suitcases confiscated from deportees to Auschwitz in front of a photograph of hostages arriving at the camp.

Located about 45 miles west of Krakow, Poland, Auschwitz was one of many sites used by the Nazis to carry out the systematic “extermination” of Jews and other minority groups during the Holocaust. It remains the largest documented mass murder site in human history and has since become an enduring symbol of the dangerous realms to which the spread of xenophobia and hate speech can lead.

“When we had the vision to create the exhibition, we conceived its narrative as an opportunity to better understand how such a place could come to exist and as warning of where hatred can take us to,” said Luis Ferreiro, director of the international exhibition firm Musealia, which partnered with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland to create the exhibition project.

article continues below ad

As part of this goal, the exhibition—the largest on Auschwitz ever to be presented in the United States—goes beyond showcasing recovered artifacts from the concentration camp. Throughout 20 galleries that span three floors of the museum, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away provides context about the rise of Nazism by outlining the stories of various Holocaust victims, perpetrators, and bystanders.

The exhibit also sheds light on the aftermath of the horrific experiences by Holocaust survivors—the youngest of whom are in their mid-70s today—with more than 100 artifacts from survivors who found refuge in the greater New York City area; those artifacts include sketchbooks and letters of personal correspondence, some of which have never before been on display in the United States. Audio guides with detailed narration will be available upon request in English, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Mandarin, German, Polish, and Russian.

The inmate cap of 18 year-old Hanoch Kolman, who was deported to Auschwitz in the fall of 1942
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away arrives to New York City after an extended run in Madrid, where it drew more than 600,000 visitors and became one of Europe’s most visited exhibitions last year. The exhibition comes to North America for the first time during a period in which anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and violence against minority groups are on the rise, both across the United States and around the world.

article continues below ad

As the title of the exhibit suggests, Auschwitz is not ancient history but living memory,” said Bruce C. Ratner, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees. “My hope for this exhibit is that it motivates all of us to make the connections between the world of the past and the world of the present and to take a firm stand against hate, bigotry, ethnic violence, religious intolerance, and nationalist brutality of all kinds.”

“This exhibit reminds, in the starkest ways, where anti-Semitism can ultimately lead,” said Ron Lauder, founder and chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Committee and president of the World Jewish Congress. “And the world should never go there again.”

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away runs from May 8, 2019, through January 3, 2020, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. Advance tickets are available for purchase at Auschwitz.nycHolocaust survivors, active members of the military and first responders, and NYC public school students and educators (with valid school-issued identification) receive free entry. 

>> Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to New York City