FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 17, 2014
Powerful exhibit shares local stories of despair, hope and loss during the Holocaust
Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later opens at Freedom Center Jan. 30
CINCINNATI – The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education featuring the Steven F. Cassidy Collection, in partnership with Cincinnati Museum Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, has developed and built a powerful exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later opens at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on January 30, 2015, 70 years after the camp’s liberation.
Through artifacts, incredible photographs and powerful personal stories, Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later gives voice to the survivors and eyewitnesses of Auschwitz, telling the heartbreaking stories of death and the remarkable stories of life inside a hellish world devoid of humanity and decency. The exhibit was curated by the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education with the guidance of Holocaust scholar Dr. Michael Berenbaum and features documents and artifacts on loan from the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, the Klau Library of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, the Randolph family and the private collection of local collector Steven F. Cassidy. Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later uses never before seen artifacts to tell the history of the Holocaust from various perspectives: victim, collaborator, bystander and perpetrator. Auschwitz’s history of systematic and organized genocide provides a stark warning and call to action for those today to stand up against injustice, inhumanity and genocide.
“Auschwitz has become synonymous with the Holocaust and serves as a symbol of man’s inhumanity to their fellow man. As we mark this significant anniversary, we are called to learn about it anew,” says Sarah L. Weiss, executive director of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education. “This exhibit will shed new light on this important part of our collective history and the Freedom Center serves as a fitting site to learn and reflect on a period in our history when the human spirit was challenged by inhumane cruelty.”
A symbol of oppression, inhumanity and unspeakable atrocities, Auschwitz is the world’s most notorious concentration camp. Between 1940 and 1945, approximately 1.3 million men, women and children, most of whom were Jewish, were deported to Auschwitz. Before the camp was finally liberated by Soviet forces on January 27, 1945, 1.1 million had perished at Auschwitz. Only 7,000 survivors remained when Soviet troops entered the camp.
Auschwitz was originally constructed in 1940 and grew as subcamps were added, eventually covering a total area of 15 square miles. Included in the exhibition are train tickets to Auschwitz, visual reminders of how Jews across Europe were rounded up and deported by the Nazis, packed onto rail cars and forced to stand for days on end without sufficient food, water or facilities before arriving at concentration camps in the thousands. After arriving at Auschwitz the prisoners went through a selection process, the result of which was either forced labor or death on an industrial scale inside gas chambers where the life was choked out of them by Zyclon B, a pesticide used as a tool against what the Nazis viewed as a plague on Europe.
The physical toll on the prisoners at Auschwitz was unimaginable in a civilized world. The mental and emotional toll was even worse. Jews were stripped of their identity, their name replaced by a number tattooed on their left forearm. Local survivors Bella Ouziel and Werner Coppel share the nightmarish experiences they endured, including receiving their tattoos.
Humans ceased being treated as humans. Stock shares from IG Farben, a factory created at Auschwitz to serve the German war effort, show the profits gained on the backs of human beings treated as inanimate pieces of machinery, cogs to be replaced when one wore out and needed to be destroyed.
Families were torn apart. Husbands, fathers and sons watched as their wives, sisters and daughters were pulled aside, never to be seen again. New families formed inside camps with strangers playing the role of brother, sister, mother and father. The support of these camp families allowed people to muster the will to survive through the darkness of their captivity. Many tried to reconnect with loved ones after liberation, returning to find their homes looted, destroyed or occupied by strangers.
Amongst the horrors of Auschwitz there was also hope. A rabbi, who was also imprisioned at Auschwitz, told Werner of a Haggadah he had buried in a cemetery to prevent it from being destroyed by the Nazis as Jews were rounded up for deportation to concentration camps. Following liberation Werner dug up the Haggadah, using it during the next Passover Seder. Traditionally, reading the Haggadah at the Seder table is a reminder that God liberated the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Though the rabbi did not live to see liberation, his Haggadah and Werner’s promise to retrieve it was a reminder and a confirmation of faith that the Lord would liberate the Jews once again.
In the heart of a civilized world it seemed incomprehensible that humans could be capable of committing such unspeakable atrocities. But the artifacts, photos and stories of the Holocaust awaken one’s conscience to the grim reality that exists in parts of the world where fear, hatred and ignorance reign. Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later gives a voice to the survivors and eyewitnesses of Auschwitz and invites us today to stand up against injustice around the world.
“We must live a life that ensures that the suffering and sacrifice of those during the dark periods in human history are not in vain,” says Clarence G. Newsome, PhD, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later is a reminder that the unimaginable is possible but that the human spirit can and will prevail. Together, we can secure freedom in all its forms for all people regardless of race, creed or gender and we can defend that freedom against any sinister and evil plot.”
Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later opens January 30, 2015 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later is presented by the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Cincinnati Museum Center with the support of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. For more information visit www.freedomcenter.org.