A German-made World War II-era Model 2 freight car was installed outside the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust as part of the travelling exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. Freight cars such as this were used by the German Nazis to deport people within occupied Europe to ghettos, killing centers, and concentration and extermination camps. Ultimately, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, and 1.1 million of those were murdered there.
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is the most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition about Auschwitz ever exhibited in North America. The presentation at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is produced in partnership with the international exhibition firm Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland. The groundbreaking exhibition was curated by an international team of experts led by historian Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt. It will open in New York City on May 8, 2019 and run through January 3, 2020.
“The freight car is symbolic of the murder of millions people. Auschwitz is not ancient history but living memory, warning us to be vigilant, haunting us with the admonition ‘Never Again.’ It compels us to look around the world and mark the ongoing atrocities against vulnerable people, and to take a firm stand against hate, bigotry, ethnic violence, religious intolerance, and nationalist brutality of all kinds,” said Bruce C. Ratner, Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees.
Between June 1940 and January 1945, more than 1.1 million people, including ca. 1 million Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz. Most were transported there in train cars such as the one being placed on display. The horrible journey could last many days. Approximately 80 people and their belongings were crammed into each train car with a single barrel for sanitation and a can of drinking water, on a trip from which most never returned. The train cars brought people to extermination centers and returned filled with their looted possessions.
This freight car is one of 120,000 built between 1910 and 1927, used by the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German National Railway) to transport foodstuffs, goods, and livestock. During World War II such trains cars were also used to transport soldiers and prisoners of war, and to deport Jews, Roma and others to the ghettos and killing centers in occupied Poland and the German Nazi concentration camps across occupied Europe. It is 11.5 ft. wide x 31.5 ft. long and has approximately 215 square feet of space.
Featuring more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs, the New York presentation of the exhibition will allow visitors to experience artifacts from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on view for the first time in North America, including hundreds of personal items—such as suitcases, eyeglasses, and shoes—that belonged to survivors and victims of Auschwitz. Other artifacts include concrete posts that were part of the fence of the Auschwitz camp; fragments of an original barrack for prisoners from the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp; a desk and other possessions of the first and the longest-serving Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss; a gas mask used by the SS; and Picasso’s Lithograph of Prisoner.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage has incorporated into the exhibition more than 100 rare artifacts from its collection that relay the experience of survivors and liberators who found refuge in the greater New York area. These artifacts include: Alfred Kantor’s sketchbook and portfolio that contain over 150 original paintings and drawings from Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Schwarzheide; the trumpet that musician Louis Bannet (acclaimed as “the Dutch Louis Armstrong”) credits for saving his life while he was imprisoned in Auschwitz; visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania often referred to as “Japan’s Oskar Schindler”; prisoner registration forms and identification cards; personal correspondence; tickets for passage on the St. Louis; a rescued Torah scroll from the Bornplatz Synagogue in Hamburg; and dreidels and bullets recovered by Father Patrick Desbois in a Jewish mass grave in Ukraine.
Also on display from the Museum of Jewish Heritage collection will be Heinrich Himmler’s SS dagger and helmet and his annotated copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as well as an anti-Jewish proclamation issued in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring by German security chief Reinhard Heydrich on the occasion of Göring’s birthday. The proclamation required Jews to identify themselves with a “yellow ring” on their clothes. Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s work. These artifacts stand as evidence of a chapter of history that must never be forgotten.
Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is located at 36 Battery Place, New York City. Call 646.437.4202 for more information or visit mjhnyc.org.