Relics from Nazi death camp to go on tour
The first ever travelling exhibition of objects from Auschwitz concentration camp has just been announced. The aim: to help fight rising anti-semitism in Europe. But will it be effective?
Auschwitz confounds the visitor with its sheer scale. After walking under the Arbeit Macht Frei sign— yes, it is still there — you are confronted with what it truly means to kill over a million people.
Heaps of battered suitcases. A tangled mass of spectacles. A poignant pile of wedding rings. A sea of human hair. The vast expanse of fences, guard towers and barbed wire at Birkenau.
And for the first time, a selection of these artefacts will be taken around the world as part of Auschwitz’s first travelling exhibition. It will travel around the world for seven years, starting in Madrid. Precise dates will be announced in about a month.
While it cannot match the scale of Auschwitz, the exhibition will aim to introduce visitors to the subject through more personal objects: the swastika-adorned belt-buckle from a German SS uniform; a brown blanket that belonged to Siegfried Fedrid, a Jew born in Vienna.
Anything that smacks of commercialising the Holocaust instantly raises sensitivities. Organisers of the exhibition have admitted that people will be charged to enter some locations, but have gone to pains to say that this is not a profiteering exercise.
The organisers hope the exhibition will remind a younger, more detached generation about this greatest crime.
According to Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz Museum: “Knowledge about the camps is fading.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of a Jewish human-rights organisation, says that we are “in the period of the last remnants, last decades, where personal survivors or witnesses, who can describe the events, are living on this planet.”
Jeff Jacoby writes in The Boston Globe that “Judaism has always attached intense significance to remembrance,” and even while the Holocaust was happening, many felt a desperate need to preserve the truth. As the historian Simon Dubnow implored his fellow inhabitants of the Riga ghetto: “Yiddin, schreibt un farschreibt” — “Jews, write it all down.”
But when the last survivors have died, will it all be forgotten?
Fading from memory
“The world will never forget,” say some. There are Holocaust memorials dotted all over the world. The most famous Holocaust museum is in Washington — a city with tenuous links to the horror. It remains a staple of the school curriculum, and its uniqueness will ensure that it will be seared into human consciousness forever.
“Everything fades eventually,” reply others. When the last survivors die out we will start to view the Holocaust in the same way as the Mongols ravaging Asia: an undoubted horror, but a mere historical fact, shorn of the personal testimony that makes the Holocaust so powerful. People must learn about it while they still can.
- Are we in danger of forgetting about the Holocaust?
- Should people be charged for seeing these artefacts?
- Come up with a novel way of ensuring that the Holocaust is remembered long after any survivors have died.
- Read a personal account of a victim of the Holocaust. What lessons does it have for today’s world?
Some People Say...
“Without memory, there would be no civilisation, no society, no future.”Elie Wiesel
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- That for the first time, a selection of artefacts from Auschwitz are going to travel the world in order to bring the Holocaust closer to those who have not seen the camps first hand. We know that the exhibition will last for seven years, but exact dates are yet to be announced. The Holocaust is still a key part of any Western school curriculum, but as time progresses, some fear that it will fade from humanity’s consciousness.
- What do we not know?
- Whether the Holocaust will buck the trend of how we view history. Generally, once any survivors of an event have died out, people view historical events in a much more detached manner. But huge amounts of effort have been put into making sure the Holocaust is never forgotten.
- The largest and longest-running of all the concentration camps during the second world war. Located in southern Poland, the site is better preserved than most other camps. More than 45m people have visited it since 1945.
- Arbeit Macht Frei
- Meaning: “Work sets you free.”
- Auschwitz was split into three. Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz-II, is located about two miles from the main camp, was where the majority of people were killed, often within hours of their arrival. The third was Auschwitz-III, Monowitz.
- In multiple passages the Hebrew Bible makes remembrance a specific religious obligation. At Jewish weddings, the groom stamps on a glass to commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. The exodus from Egypt is also remembered as a pivotal moment in Jewish history.
- Simon Dubnow
- Dubnow died in the ghetto in 1941. His main work was the ten volume World History of the Jewish People.