A boxcar of the kind the Nazis used to transport people like cattle. The barracks where they slept jammed into narrow bunks. The posts from fences that caged them in. A canister once filled with the poison gas pellets that sealed their fate.
With these artifacts and 700 others, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is set to bring Auschwitz to New York this spring, a major undertaking that will mean ripping out the museum’s permanent collection for an exhibition designed to provide a vivid sense of the Nazi death camp where 1.1 million people were killed, a million of them Jews.
The exhibition, titled “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.,” is aimed at refocusing the heritage museum into one that will delve more deeply into the Holocaust at a time when Jewish leaders say anti-Semitism and other hatreds are growing and the memory of — and witnesses to — what happened to six million Jews and other victimized minorities three-quarters of a century ago are fading away.
“This exhibit reminds them, and it reminds all of us, where anti-Semitism ultimately leads” said Ronald Lauder, the philanthropist who helped raise $110 million to preserve Auschwitz. “And the world should never go there again.”
Heritage Museum officials said they anticipate spending $8.5 million on the project, split between the cost of installing the exhibition and the cost of other building improvements that are timed to coincide with it.
Holocaust museums in Dallas and Houston, and the Holocaust galleries at the Imperial War Museum in London, are also expanding under projects initiated years ago, but which are now assuming greater relevance, their organizers say, because of growing concerns about the spread of intolerance, hate speech, nationalism and xenophobia. In the Midwest later this month, the Cincinnati Museum Center is scheduled to open a new 7,500-square-foot Holocaust and Humanity Center dedicated to “using the lessons of the Holocaust to inspire action today.”
Bruce C. Ratner, the developer and philanthropist who is chairman of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, said his institution and others had recognized the need for higher visibility in response to events like the violent 2017 march in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists displayed swastikas and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” and a counterprotester died in a car attack that injured several others.
“Given where the world is today, it is absolutely critical,” he added. “My interest and that of the board is how the Holocaust applies today.”
The Auschwitz installation, the first exhibition to feature major loans of artifacts from the former Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland, is currently on display in Madrid and has drawn some 600,000 visitors. It will open in New York on May 8 — the date of the Nazi surrender in 1945.