By Bruce C. Ratner and Michael S. Glickman
The crematoria—their brick columns spewing smoke. Ash, remains; train tracks unfolding, scarring the landscape. Steel. Arbeit macht frei: work will set you free. Striped uniforms, decimated bodies. Bodies—hanged. Standing in rows for hours: counting, counting, re-counting. Thin soup, thickest hunger, hunger with new dimensions. Barbed wire, narrow bunks, rotting planks. Toil. Persistent illness and showers and—choking. We still see the people—choking.
When we envision the Holocaust, Auschwitz rises in our minds. Its long shadows rise.
At Auschwitz one million Jewish people were murdered. Crammed train-cars rumbled the arrival of Jewish people from nearly every country in Europe that was occupied or allied by Germany. Survivors’ stories ask us to witness these losses. Deniers and minimizers of the Holocaust, too, focus on Auschwitz—attempting to edit, rewrite, or stamp out one of the most searing elements of Holocaust history.
The horrors of Auschwitz have guaranteed it a place in the imaginations of people around the world. But what does it mean that images of Auschwitz reign in Holocaust histories, cultural products, and online? What unique responsibilities do Holocaust museums and education centers carry when we teach about Auschwitz? What can we do to ensure that, precisely because of the infamy of Auschwitz, its history is more widely known, and presented with accuracy and respect for victims and survivors?
To continue to answer these challenges and responsibilities, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust presents the groundbreaking exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. The exhibition opens in New York on May 8, 2019: marking the anniversary of VE Day or Victory in Europe Day, 1945, when the Allies celebrated Nazi Germany’s surrender of its armed forces and the end of World War II. During the run of the exhibition, the Museum will present related public, educational, and scholarly programming so that people from New York and around the world can responsibly explore the history of Auschwitz.
It feels significant that the Auschwitz exhibition—the most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition ever presented in this country—will open in a Museum that completes the cultural and educational landscape it shares with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Across the water, Lady Liberty lifts her lamp and Ellis Island marks the gateway through which millions flowed into this country seeking refuge. The exhibition will be featured across the three floors of the Museum’s core building, whose six-sided shape and six-tiered roof are reminders of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. They are also reminiscent of the six-pointed Star of David, symbolizing the Museum’s dedication to representing Jewish life and culture as it has endured and evolved.
Twenty years ago, the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust was dedicated by survivors. Since then we have welcomed more than two million visitors. We have emerged as the third-largest Holocaust museum in the world, and the primary resource in the tri-state area for teaching and learning about the Holocaust. In presenting the Auschwitz exhibition in New York, we advance our mission as a place of memory and a place of learning. At the Museum, we remember the history of the Holocaust as a history of individuals, and this in itself is an act of resistance.
This essay is forthcoming in the Auschwitz exhibition catalogue.