By Alison Fox
August 15, 2019
MUSEALIA/José Barea

A single red Mary Jane pump sits on display, dirtied and crumpled by time and the horrible places it has been. At one point the red shoe belonged to a woman, but her name will never be known. Now it sits eerily without its match, perched in front of a black and white image of thousands of other discarded shoes.

The red shoe was taken from a woman who was deported to Auschwitz in the 1940s. Now it serves as a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust, one of the first things people see when they enter “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.,” the largest-ever exhibit on Auschwitz in the U.S., at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

John Halpern
MUSEALIA/José Barea

The 18,000-square-foot exhibit is a trying walk through one of the worst parts of the world’s history, an important reminder of what can happen if people let hate win. Set out on three levels, it includes 400 photographs and more than 700 original objects, many of which have never before been viewed in America.

“Every one of the artifacts in this exhibition tells a personal and tragic story about lives that were interrupted by senseless hatred and violence,” Jack Kliger, the president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, said in a statement.

The exhibit opened in May and has since seen more than 60,000 visitors come through from more than 30 countries (more than 10,000 of them students), according to the museum. It will remain open through Jan. 3, 2020.

When visitors enter, they’re immediately confronted with the terror of the aftermath of the Holocaust. You’re then brought back through history, coming face-to-face with the lead up to the creation of the camp.

Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945, but not before more than 1.1 million people were killed there.

As you walk through the museum, which has been dedicated almost entirely to the exhibit, it’s quiet. You’re confronted with a small dress with a Peter Pan collar that couldn’t have fit a child more than 5 years old, it’s almost brown now, but may have been purple at some point. A three-tiered wooden bunk serves as a terrible reminder of the camp’s overcrowding and inhuman conditions.

The museum features Heinrich Himmler’s copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf book as well as 10 original artifacts from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, including dried beans that were found lodged between the cracks of the stairs in the home they hid in, never before displayed anywhere, according to the museum.

John Halpern

There are images of hope: a photo of Albert Einstein, who grew up Jewish in Germany and emigrated to the U.S. after the Nazis took over; tales of people who were liberated, their recollections of their time in the camp used throughout the museum. But mostly, the overwhelming feeling is that of warning, like the quote by Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi that greets you as you first enter: “It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”

Tickets for the “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” exhibit are $16 for a timed entrance for adults, and free for Holocaust survivors, active members of the military and first responders, and students and teachers in NYC schools (with valid school-issued ID).

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