BWW Feature: AUSCHWITZ – NOT LONG AGO – NOT FAR AWAY at Union Station – Broadway World

Posted By on June 16, 2021

Now open at Kansas City's Union Station is a huge, new, historical exhibition. The exhibition is fronted by one of the freight cars that once transported hundreds of thousands of souls to the Auschwitz death camp in southeastern Poland between 1940 and 1945.

"Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away." recalls the horror that was the NAZI terror and which forced the rest of the civilized world to rise up and end Adolph Hitler, his acolytes, and The Third German Reich. Seventy-five million people died as a result of World War II. Eleven million people, inclusive of some six million European Jews, were exterminated at the hands of the NAZIs in what became known as the Holocaust.

Auschwitz is personal to me. The Best Man at my wedding, a Chicago policeman, was the son of an Auschwitz survivor. I vividly remember the blue numbered tattoo on the inside of his Mom's forearm. I have read thousands upon thousands of pages about the war and the camps. Most notably and recently, the incredible fictionalized account of the Henry family by the unsurpassed Herman Wouk and Erik Larsen's nonfiction telling of the experiences of American Ambassador William Dodd and family in Germany from 1933 to 1937. Among the most vivid accounts is Stephen Spielberg's 1993 masterpiece "Schindler's List" and the Shoah Foundation that Spielberg financed to allow Holocaust Survivors a tool with which to memorialize their nightmare forever. And I recommend this exhibit.

I am the son, son-in-law, and nephew to veterans who stood witness to the horror. My Uncle never fully recovered. A boyhood neighbor was an official US Army photographer at the 1945 Nuremberg War Crime Trials. He had retained copies of the original photographic trial evidence.

My Dad's people emigrated from what was then Austria (and is now Poland near Auschwitz) in 1885 to St. Louis. It is impossible to know for sure, but their migration most probably had to do with a schism between branches of the religion they practiced. My Mom's people came from Ukraine and Moldova as the result of a 1906 pogrom that alleged Jews had killed a Christian boy so that his blood could be used to manufacture Matzo.

One million, one hundred thousand people died at Auschwitz-Birkenau during its four years of operation. Most were Jews, but many were homosexuals, members of the Roma minority, Slavs, Poles, or political dissidents. The fear of "the other among us" explains much of what happened.

How could such a thing have ever happened? Surely, it must be a conspiracy theory. It is not.

How could a culture that gave us Guttenberg, Bach, Mozart, Schweitzer, Einstein, Freud, and Mahler have committed the unspeakable? They did.

And this is really the point about why good Midwestern people from the heartland of America need to see "Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away." Germany was and is an advanced, marvelous country populated by incredibly intelligent and productive people. Many Midwestern ancestors came to America from Germany searching for a better life. These people were not monsters, they are us.

Jews and other minorities have been persecuted for hundreds of years to one level or another. The Spanish Inquisition during the late 1300s required Jews to convert to Catholicism or die. It is estimated two thousand were burned at the stake. A century earlier all Jews were expelled from England and remained excluded until 1657.

In all these cases and many more, autocrats manipulated their publics to believe that the difficulties of life came from the successes of a minority. Germany, following World War I, was an economic basket case. The Versailles Treaty took unreasonable vengeance on the losers. The National Socialist Party (the NAZIs) took advantage of the suffering German people and came to power with only thirty-seven percent of the vote. President Paul Von Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint the spellbinding NAZI orator Adolph Hitler as Chancellor in 1932. Hindenburg died shortly thereafter and Hitler acceded to primacy.

Hitler made economic promises that could never come true and invented a racial archetype that a battered population wanted desperately to believe. Hitler's real plan was robbery writ large on a scale never before imagined. He would achieve his promises through murder of the unpopular of society, taking their goods, and stealing the resources (living space) from the surrounding countryside.

"Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away." The exhibit retells this horrible chapter in human experience. Auschwitz was a combination slave labor and extermination camp. Hundreds of thousands were shipped to the camp in freight cars like the one that now sits outside Union Station on Pershing Avenue. Those deemed unable to work were summarily executed in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms, their belongings were catalogued, shipped to support the German war effort, before the bodies were burned in industrial crematoriums.

Among the artifacts displayed is the bird cage device filled with the deadly insecticide Zyklon B. The cage was lowered time after time into the gas chambers/disguised shower rooms, the sealed door looms to one of the chambers, and the examination table used by Dr. Joseph Mengele for his fiendish "twins" experiments echoes with the screams of its patients.

"Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away." Is the work product of a non- Jewish, Spanish museum exhibition company. It was first proposed to the Union Station Staff in 2015 at an industry gathering in Atlanta. The exhibition was conceived by Muselalia of Spain, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum led by Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz in Poland with the cooperation of Dutch Historian Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, former Shoah Foundation President Dr. Michael Berenbaum, and chief curator Paul Salmons. Kansas City is the third and final stop for the exhibition after extended residencies in Madrid and New York.

"Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away." memorializes those who died there and raises up the always recognizable, screeching, alternating, European police sirens of the period. We are silently warned to be alert to the echoes of those sounds and of who can be convinced to blame their fears, failures, and shortcomings in life on minority communities; like Jews, Asians, Latinos, Indians, African-Americans, or followers of Islamic faiths. Many have been taken by the dishonest, siren railings of former or potential autocrats in positions of power to stoke fears, make up outrageous lies, or otherwise convince perfectly rational people that they need to be afraid and that they need to take action. These autocratic villains exist in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, The Middle East, and even here in America.

As of midnight on opening day, June 14, 2021, 81,000 tickets have been sold for "Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away;" the exhibit. Admission may not now be available until late summer or early fall. Plans are in place for the exhibition to continue until mid-January 2022. It is an object lesson that might save us.

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BWW Feature: AUSCHWITZ - NOT LONG AGO - NOT FAR AWAY at Union Station - Broadway World

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