Posted on February 24th, 2017 by Rachel
As we will be opening Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust and Humanity on March 5th, it made me think of my visit a few years ago to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. While I had learned about the Holocaust from an early age and had visited many Holocaust memorials and museums, nothing could prepare me for visiting the site where 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives, including nearly 1 million Jews.
The entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp
The day started in Krakow where I awoke early to take a bus through the Polish countryside to the town of Oswiecim, now known better by its German name of Auschwitz. I began by passing under the infamous sign “Arbeit Mach Frei”, translated as “work makes you free.” I first spent time in Auschwitz 1 which was the main camp and was where the Nazis carried out the first experiments at using Zyklon B to put people to death. It was also where the camp commandant’s office and most of the SS offices were located.
Guard house and barracks in Auschwitz 1
I stood in the courtyard where the SS conducted executions by shootings. In the museum, I saw haunting exhibits of victim’s belongings such as worn shoes, glasses and abandoned luggage. There were also rooms of empty poison gas containers and human hair. One particularly affecting room was full of children’s clothing.
Cattle car and train tracks
I then proceeded to Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, which was where millions died in the gas chambers. I was struck by the scale of the complex which seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. The camp was surrounded by miles of barbed wire fencing and guard towers. I found Birkenau to be a more meditative space, generally free from the tour groups in the crowded barracks. I walked along the train tracks to a sole cattle car which once carried victims to the camps. I stood in silence inside one of the remaining gas chambers. I also paid my respects at the ruins of crematoria and pits which were filled with human ashes. The prisoner barracks were damp with not much light coming through and had what seemed like hundreds of wooden bunks inside.
A visible reminder of the people now gone
Throughout my visit, I felt a sense of numbness, shock and grief. I returned to Krakow feeling empty inside and unable to comprehend how humanity could be capable of such evil. Although this was an emotional day, I am glad I visited because I believe it is important to see first-hard the evidence of the concentration camps.
Schindler’s office and enamelware made by the factory workers.
The next day I visited Oskar Schindler’s enamelware factory, which tells the inspiring story of how Schindler saved over a thousand Jews from the camps. While the day before I had witnessed the worst of humanity, the next day my faith in humanity was slightly renewed.
My Holocaust journey did not end in Poland. After I returned to the states, I returned to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where I learned more background on the Shoah. I also discovered great resources on their website on how individuals can take steps to fight against anti-Semitism in their own communities. Even if you are not able to travel to Auschwitz, I encourage everyone to visit their local Holocaust Museum and to stand up against genocide that may be happening around the world. Like many of you, I await with anticipation our Remembering Auschwitz exhibit and look forward to attending many of the upcoming programs ranging from presentations by Holocaust survivors to artist insights and musical performances.
A blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.
Posted on February 17th, 2017 by Rachel
Opening March 5
The smell of fresh paint wafting from behind the closed gallery door is a tell tale sign marking the transition from one exhibit to another. In January we said goodbye to Beyond Chicken Soup, returned many of the artifacts and crated the text panels and interactives for shipment to its next venue. As soon as the gallery was empty, Mark Ward and his incredible crew were hard at work prepping for our next exhibition, Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity which is set to open on March 5.
This landmark initiative brings four separate exhibit projects together for the first time, each of which explores a facet of Holocaust history and commemoration. Together they shed light on the significance of Auschwitz – the town and the camp – and how it has endured as a symbol of the Holocaust for more than 70 years after its liberation. With three main camps and more than 40 sub-camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest camp within the Nazi prison system and served as the site where approximately 1.1 million people were murdered included nearly 1 million Jews.
Hotel Schmeidler, 1912. Courtesy of Miroslaw Ganobis. Image from A Town Known as Auschwitz.
Our exhibit takes visitors through a multidimensional tour of Holocaust history beginning centuries prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland. A Town Known As Auschwitz: Life and Death of a Jewish Community from the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust reveals 400 years of the vibrant Jewish history of Oświęcim, Poland —the town the Germans called Auschwitz. Told through photographs, maps and oral history interviews, the exhibit focuses on friendships between Jewish and non-Jewish residents of the town and how the Jewish community flourished for centuries.
Architecture of Murder
Construction of the camp known as Auschwitz I began in 1940 in an abandoned Polish military barracks on the outskirts of the town. Architecture of Murder: The Auschwitz Birkenau Blueprints developed by Yad Vashem and on loan from the American Society for Yad Vashem, explores this darker period in the town’s history through blue prints, architectural drawings and other documents. To provide further visual evidence of the camp, the exhibit also features a model of the camp created by local high school student, Andrew Altman, to honor the experiences of his great-grandfather, Edward (Yehuda) Biderman who was sent on a transport to Auschwitz in August of 1944 from the Lodz Ghetto in Poland.
Image combining the train station at Buhosovice, near Terezîn (left) and Auschwitz (right). Image from Loss and Beauty by artist Keron Psillas.
Today, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum is visited by millions of visitors each year. Loss and Beauty: Photographs by Keron Psillas provides a contemporary perspective on the experience of visiting and documenting Auschwitz and other camps today. Psillas’s beautiful and haunting works consist of layered photographs that seek to commemorate and honor the lives of those murdered during the Holocaust. A catalog of her work that includes her poetry as well as her reflections on each photograph on display in the exhibit will be available for sale in our gift shop.
A collage made to honor and remember Gitta Nagel.
The Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project is an original art installation developed in partnership with The Human Element Project that adds the voices and stories of Maryland’s community of Holocaust survivors. The plaques on display feature the collages that were created during the many different workshops that we held this summer and fall for Holocaust survivors and their families and highlight incredible stories of survival.
We look forward to marking the opening of Remembering Auschwitz with a special pre-opening brunch and tour for Holocaust survivors and their families in the morning on Sunday, March 5. We will then open the exhibit to the public at 12:00 that day. At 2:00, we have invited artists Lori Shocket of the Human Element Project and Keron Psillas to talk about their experiences documenting the Holocaust and other tragedies through the medium of art. We hope you will join us for what will surely be a moving experience. The exhibit remains on display through May 29.
A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.
Posted on November 30th, 2016 by Rachel
In this time of divisive politics and hateful language, I would like to highlight a few of the educational programs at the JMM in the past few month that I believe encourage dialogue and foster empathy and understanding. I would also like to share a few thoughts about how the Museum community as a whole can respond to our recent election.
I have always found the JMM to be a very welcoming and inclusive place that also aims to encourage dialogue on contemporary issues. In our mission, we strive to be a site of discourse and discovery, where individuals and groups are encouraged to draw connections to “events and trends in American History, to contemporary life, and to our hopes and aspirations for the future.” JMM Mission and Vision
Vanguard students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
Through our education programs, we strive to teach students about Jewish culture and traditions as well as work to find connections with their own stories and heritages. Last month, a class of English as a Second Language students, including several refugees from Syria, visited from Vanguard Collegiate Middle School. We also had middle school students from Baltimore International Academy visit earlier this month. I have been lucky enough to facilitate education programs in our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit for several of these schools. I have found it very rewarding sharing the stories of Baltimore’s Jewish immigrants to a younger generation of immigrants.
Lessons of the Shoah
Earlier this month, about 275 students and 25 teachers participated in Lessons of the Shoah, a high school interfaith program, this year held at John Carroll High School. The theme of this year’s program was No Asylum: the Plight of the Refugees. One of the goals of this program is to use the Holocaust as a starting point to promote tolerance, understanding and respect among students of diverse backgrounds. From all accounts, it sounded like a powerful program which included film screenings, musical selections, hearing from a Holocaust survivor and discussions about current refugee issues.
ICJS Teacher Workshop
I also attended a teachers workshop a few weeks ago called Jewish and Muslim Refugees: Connecting the Past to the Present where we watched the film “Lives Lost: Lives Found” about Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1945, took part in a gallery walk activity to raise awareness of Islamophobia and heard from an Iraqi Muslim refugee currently living in Baltimore.
Teachers work in groups at the ICJS workshop, hosted at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
While I am very proud of the work we do at the JMM, I was also glad to read that other Museums have recently reaffirmed their their roles as safe and open spaces. Laura Lott, the President of the American Alliance of Museums, also offered insightful comments in response to the election. She wrote that “Our institutions are uniquely positioned to listen, learn, and educate; to give historical context; and to foster empathy and inclusion by sharing the stories and perspectives of all people.” To sum up, museums are more important than ever now and I believe they can play a role in helping the nation heal and move forward by serving as safe spaces to have difficult conversations. Museums can model a kinder, emphatic and tolerant society. If you would like to promote the work Museums do everyday, I would encourage you to participate in Museum Advocacy Day on Feb. 27-28 in Washington D.C.
A blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.