New York City (CNN) — There’s a toddler’s blush pink, ruffled dress. A buckled red shoe with cut-out slits. Clear and sea foam colored liquor bottles. Remnants of lives stolen during the Holocaust, they are among the more than 700 objects on display at “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” an exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, which runs through January 3, 2020.
“The woman that owned that shoe, unfortunately, we don’t know anything about her,” said one of the exhibition’s directors, Luis Ferreiro. “Those objects are the only thing that have survived a human being. Everything else is literally ashes in the wind.”
Many of the objects in the traveling exhibition, which was produced in partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, belong to people whose stories were cut short by the Nazis. Researchers estimate around 1 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz alone, along with over 100,000 Poles, Russian soldiers, Roma, LGBTQ people, political dissidents and anyone deemed “undesirable” by the Nazis.
“Auschwitz became a place where all this life and all these stories were converging and most of them were being taken away from earth,” said Ferreiro. “And now it’s the opposite.”
Ferreiro is director of Musealia, a family company known for the wildly successful “Bodies… the Exhibition.”
In 2013, Ferreiro reached out to Holocaust expert Robert Jan van Pelt to convince him to work together to tell the story of Auschwitz in a traveling exhibition. Their team came together to bring the story behind Auschwitz to audiences who may never visit the concentration camp in Poland. They intended to bring new focus to the Holocaust — to death, yes, but also to life.
And it couldn’t be more timely.
When van Pelt first started working with Ferreiro, he said he’d thought the lesson of Auschwitz was indelible. He learned he was wrong.
Researchers found that anti-Semitic acts had been on a steady rise all over the world when a gunman murdered 11 people at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018. Before that, concerns of stereotyping in Europe prompted a 2018 CNN/ComRes survey. One in five respondents said Jewish people had outsized influence over politics and media and the same number blamed Jewish behavior for the anti-Semitism lodged against them.
In Germany, a leading government official warned Jews there not to wear yarmulkes, the traditional skullcaps, in public because of an increase in anti-Semitic attacks across the country.
“Nazism was a society in which the distinction between truth and falsehood had ceased to be important,” said van Pelt. “We’re back in a situation that Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler and [Hermann] Göring and Heinrich [Himmler] would recognize as being their own.”
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