Union Station prepares to host Auschwitz exhibition

Auschwitz survivor Elizabeth Nussbaum dicusses her experiences and memories as the exhibit, "Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away." prepares to open in Kasas City, Missouri.

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    KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- In the midst of rising anti-Semitic attacks across the country, Union Station prepares to open its latest exhibition, “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.”

The exhibition is on pace to be one of the venue’s highest attended, selling close to 60,000 tickets before the opening.

More than 700 artifacts tell the story of the concentration camp where 1.1 million people were killed during the Holocaust.

Luis Ferreiro is the exhibition director. He aimed to select artifacts which help people to understand the perspective of survivors, victims, perpetrators and bystanders.

“These objects, they are a testimony to a person. They are an evidence to a crime. And they are, in the end, an expression of our will to somehow keep their memories alive,” he said.

The exhibition explains how antisemitism grew from the middle ages to World War II to create the environment where extermination of Jewish and Roma peoples could happen.

“When we talk about the Holocaust, when we talk about Auschwitz, there is always the easy answers. The easy answer in this case is to blame one person, one group of persons, and to believe that Hitler and the Nazis were monsters, and of course they were,” Ferreiro said. “But the truth is that the Holocaust would not have been able to happen without the collaboration of the vast majority of the society.

The collection of artifacts is making only two stops in the United States, New York City and Kansas City.

Executive Vice President and COO at Union Station Jerry Baber said the honor of hosting “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” came from building meaningful relationships.

Baber and Union Station representatives search for new exhibitions and attractions every year. They attended a conference in Atlanta in 2015 to hear directors pitch their shows and ideas. That’s where they met Ferreiro. Baber said he did not have a flashy presentation, but he had something unique with a promise to put care into the story. After a few meetings with Ferreiro and his family, the groups decided Union Station was the right fit.

“If you spend any time talking with Luis, he's a very genuine person. He's very passionate about this subject. He's not just doing it to do an exhibit,” Baber said. “I think he agreed that we understood, we felt the same way. We felt the importance of this storyline. We felt the importance of bringing this to our community.”

Due to the fragility and cultural significance of the artifacts, Union Station had to increase security for the exhibition. Crews installed more cameras and all ticketed visitors must pass through metal detectors.

The exhibit team also took extra caution in transporting the artifacts from New York City, where it was shown at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Police escorted trucks and drivers traveled primarily overnight.

The COVID-19 pandemic complicated travel plans. In order to travel to the United States, the exhibition had to be declared a national interest. The team was not able to bring along every member of the international crew as they had planned.

One of the largest, and most complicated transports is a German-made Model 2 railway car.

A 25,000 pound freight car sits along Pershing Road on display. Nazi Germany used the railcars to transport people who were Jewish, Polish, Roma and Soviet prisoners to ghettos and concentration camps.

Up to 100 people and their belongings would be crammed inside 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 can provoke a bittersweet memory for survivors.

“Once they arrived in Auschwitz, there was the process of selection. Many of them, the vast majority, were separated,” he said. “This was the last place they could be together as a family.”

Local Auschwitz survivor Elizabeth Nussbaum said she had a similar experience.

“As we enter into Auschwitz, ladies were on one side, men on the other. I remember as I left my mother and my siblings, they gave me something on my hand because I had beautiful hair, and that was the left time I had seen her. My father, I have not seen, and nobody else,” she said. “We kept trying to calm ourselves, but it was not easy.”

She said the train car reminds her of the horrifying three-day journey her family endured before arrival.

“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 crying, I think I’m back on the train. I don’t like to see children crying. That’s painful.”

Nussbaum said her faith was the reason she was able stay calm and survive Auschwitz.

“I didn’t do it by 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 educating new generations about the atrocities she witnessed is difficult because the full story is hard to comprehend.

“The real thing, there’s no way to explain what we went through. It’s impossible,” she said. “I want people to remember and respect those who are here.”

Education is the passion of one of Nussbaum’s fellow Kansas City-based survivors. Sonia Warshawski spent decades speaking to groups and schools about learning from the past and never repeating the horrors of history.

“It’s my duty, and that’s the reason I still go on,” she said. “I’m speaking for those who didn’t make it.”

Warshawski said many museums, such as the one in Washington D.C., do a good job with telling the story, but people who were not there will never understand the “bestiality and cruelty” the prisoners faced.

She said it would take days to describe her entire experience. She survived multiple beatings and doesn’t know how she made it out alive.

Warshawski experienced survivor’s guilt and did not want to speak about it, until the first time she heard somebody deny the events of the Holocaust happened.

“You can imagine what happened to my brain. It was like thunder, telling me ‘Sonia, this is the reason you made it, you have to speak up for those who were telling us before they were dying, ‘if you make it, you have to tell the world,’” she said.

Ferreiro said he wants people to see and understand liberation of the concentration camps happened just 75 years ago, and there are some people in society who have not learned the lessons history teaches.

“The wounds have healed, in a way, but the infection persists,” he said.

Warshawski said she hopes people will leave the exhibition with new perspectives and ideas to consider.

“I always used to say to students, ‘please don’t follow the crowd. Educate yourself. And then decide what is right and wrong.”

“Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” opens June 14.

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