KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) – Amid mounting anti-Semitic attacks across the country, Union Station is preparing to open its latest exhibition, “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.”
The exhibition is set to be one of the busiest in the area, selling nearly 60,000 tickets before the opening.
Over 700 artifacts tell the story of the concentration camp where 1.1 million people were killed during the Holocaust.
Luis Ferreiro is the director of the exhibition. It aimed to select artifacts that help people understand the perspective of survivors, victims, perpetrators and bystanders.
“These objects, they are the testimony of a person. They are proof of a crime. And they are, ultimately, an expression of our willingness to keep their memories alive, ”he said.
The exhibition explains how anti-Semitism developed from the Middle Ages to WWII to create an environment conducive to the extermination of the Jewish and Roma peoples.
“When we talk about the Holocaust, when we talk about Auschwitz, there are always easy answers. The easy answer in this case is to blame one person, a group of people, and believe that Hitler and the Nazis were monsters, and of course they were, ”Ferreiro said. “But the truth is that the Holocaust could not have happened without the collaboration of the vast majority of society.
The artifact collection only makes two stops in the United States, New York, and Kansas City.
Union Station Executive Vice President and COO Jerry Baber said the honor of hosting “Auschwitz.” Not long ago. Not far. ”Came the building of meaningful relationships.
Baber and Union Station representatives research new exhibits and attractions every year. They attended a conference in Atlanta in 2015 to hear the directors present their shows and ideas. It was there that they met Ferreiro. Baber said he didn’t have a flashy presentation, but had something unique with a promise to take care of the story. After a few meetings with Ferreiro and his family, the groups decided Union Station was the right fit.
“If you spend time talking with Luis, he’s a very genuine person. He is very passionate about this subject. He’s not doing it just to do an exhibition, ”Baber said. “I think he agreed that we understood, we felt the same. We felt the importance of this story. We felt the importance of bringing this to our community.
Due to the fragility and cultural significance of the artifacts, Union Station had to enhance the security of the exhibit. Teams have installed more cameras and all visitors with tickets must go through metal detectors.
The exhibit team also took extra care when transporting the artifacts to New York City, where they were on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Police escorted the trucks and the drivers traveled mostly at night.
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated travel plans. To travel to the United States, the exhibit had to be declared of national interest. The team was unable to take all of the international crew as expected.
One of the largest and most complicated transports is a German-made Model 2 railway car.
A 25,000 pound freight car is on display along Pershing Road. Nazi Germany used the wagons to transport Jewish, Polish, Roma and Soviet prisoners to ghettos and concentration camps.
Up to 100 people and their belongings would be crammed into the 215 square foot car for days.
Union Station Security and the Kansas City Missouri Police Department provide 24/7 surveillance of the artifact.
Ferreiro said the car may cause a bittersweet memory for survivors.
“Once we got to Auschwitz, there was the selection process. Many of them, the vast majority, have been separated, ”he said. “It was the last place they could be together as a family.”
Local Auschwitz survivor Elizabeth Nussbaum said she had had a similar experience.
“When we entered Auschwitz, the women were on one side, the men on the other. I remember when I left my mom and siblings they gave me something on my hand because I had beautiful hair, and that was the last time I saw her. My dad, I didn’t see him, and no one else, “she said.” We kept trying to calm down, but it wasn’t easy. “
She said the wagon reminded her of the horrific three-day journey her family endured before she arrived.
“No water, no food, no toilet, the children were crying because their mothers had no milk to feed them,” she said. “Every time I see a child cry, I think I’m back on the train. I don’t like to see children cry. It’s painful.
Nussbaum said her faith was the reason she was able to stay calm and survive in Auschwitz.
“I didn’t do it myself. God was helping me, ”she said. “I was a family of seven children. I was the only one who survived. People ask me, “What did you do? I said nothing.’ I think God chose me to live to create another family.
Nussbaum said it is difficult to educate new generations about the atrocities she has witnessed because the whole story is difficult to understand.
“The real thing, there’s no way to explain what we’ve been through. It’s impossible, “she said.” I want people to remember and respect those who are here. “
Education is the passion of one of the other Kansas City-based Nussbaum survivors. Sonia Warshawski has spent decades speaking to groups and schools to learn from the past and never repeat the horrors of history.
“It’s my duty, and that’s why I’m still doing it,” she said. “I speak for those who have not succeeded.”
Warshawski said many museums, like the one in Washington DC, do a good job of telling the story, but people who weren’t there will never understand the “bestiality and cruelty” prisoners face.
She said it would take days to describe her entire experience. She has survived several hits and does not know how she got out of it alive.
Warshawski lived through the survivor’s guilt and didn’t want to talk about it until the first time she heard someone deny that the events of the Holocaust happened.
“You can imagine what happened to my brain. It was like thunder, telling me ‘Sonia, that’s the reason you did it, you gotta speak up for those who told us before you died,’ if you get there, you gotta tell the world ‘ She said.
Ferreiro said he wanted people to see and understand the liberation of the concentration camps just 75 years ago, and there are people in society who have not learned the lessons of history.
“The wounds have healed, in a way, but the infection persists,” he said.
Warshawski said she hopes people leave the exhibition with new perspectives and ideas to consider.
“I always used to say to students, ‘Please don’t follow the crowd. Inquire. And then decide what is right and wrong.
” Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far. ”Opens June 14.
BUY TICKETS: unionsstation.org/event/auschwitz