New York City’s major cultural institutions are
temporarily closed to help minimize the spread of coronavirus, but many are
making their exhibits and programs available virtually, and have websites that
really engage, that make the time spent in enforced hibernation that much
richer and more productive, and frankly, less maddening.
When the Met reopens,
it will offer a series of special exhibits marking its 150th anniversary:The exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020 will present
more than 250 works of art from the collection while taking visitors on a
journey through the Museum’s history; The reopening of the galleries for
British decorative arts and design will reveal a compelling new curatorial
narrative; Transformative new gifts, cross-cultural installations, and major
international loan exhibitions will be on view throughout the year; and special
programs and outreach will include a birthday commemoration on April 13, a
range of public events June 4–6, and a story-collecting initiative.
galleries may be closed, but never fear! Social media never sleeps.”
Follow @metmuseum on Instagram for Tuesday Trivia, #MetCameos, and daily art
Being confined to home is a perfect time to take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?, available now on Coursera. This course offers an in-depth look at over 70 works of art from MoMA’s collection—many of which are currently on view in the expanded Museum—from 1980 to the present, with a focus on art produced in the last decade. Learners will hear directly from artists, architects, and designers from around the globe about their creative processes, materials, and inspiration. What Is Contemporary Art? can be found at mo.ma/whatiscontemporaryart.
I can’t wait for MoMA to
reopen so I can see Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures,
the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive
work in over 50 years. The exhibition includes approximately 100 photographs
drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. Dorothea Lange: Words
& Pictures also uses archival materials such as correspondence,
historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to
examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures.
These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and
writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide
fresh insight into Lange’s practice. (Scheduled through May 9, 2020).
American Museum of Natural History while closed, the
website is a treasure trove of information and engaging photos and ways to
explore and interact on your own. At the section of its site labeled “Explore” https://www.amnh.org/explore, there are
videos, blogs and OLogy: The Science Website for Kids, where kids of all ages
can play games, do activities, watch videos and meet scientists to learn more
about fossils, the universe, genetics, and more. (Check out https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/brain)
New-York Historical Society is closed so you will have to wait to experience “Women March,” presidential/election exhibits (take a selfie in Reagan’s Oval Office) and “Bill Graham” (phenomenal and surprising exhibit with fabulous musical accompaniment about this iconic concert impresario). Meanwhile, the N-YHS website offers sensational online exhibitions featuring some of their important past exhibits, including ‘Harry Potter; A History of Magic,” and “the Vietnam War: 1945-1975” and Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/online-exhibitions). You can also delve into its digital collection, with selections from the N-YHS Museum and Library’s holdings paintings, drawings, photographs, manuscripts, broadsides, maps, and other materials that reveal the depth and breadth of over two centuries of collecting. (http://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/). (See: Many Pathways to Mark Centennial of Women’s Suffrage)
some outdoor venues are open, as of this writing (the situation has changed
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden remains open to
the public, having implemented stringent cleaning protocols and posted new
signage on-site about best practices in personal hygiene. “We hope that the
Garden might offer you some comfort and beauty even during a particularly
stressful time.” (https://www.bbg.org/visit)
Central Park, Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows may well provide needed respite. However, the Wildlife Conservation Society has temporarily closed the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and New York Aquarium, effective Monday, March 16. Check wcs.org for updates.
Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Out of 1200 artifacts, photos, video testimonies, it comes down to one:
a tiny, well-worn leather child’s shoe, the sock still hanging out of it. Was
it taken off in anticipation the child was just going to a shower, or was the
child ferociously pulled out of the shoe and sock?
Shoes take on special significance at the “Auschwitz: Not so long ago.
Not far away.” landmark exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in
downtown Manhattan, which has been extended through August 30, 2020 before
touring to other cities.
As you first walk in, there is a single red shoe in a glass case that perversely sparks an image of the ruby slippers in “Wizard of Oz.” set against a grey-toned wall-mural sized photo of piles of shoes. Further on as you walk through the three-floors of exhibits, there is the pair of hardened leather clog-looking shoes in a case with a prison uniform so rough and raw they would irritate, then infect and swell the feet, a death sentence for the hapless prisoner.
Another display case in the “Selection” section contains shiny leather boots, much like those that the prisoners would see Mengele wearing as they were forced out of the freight cars minutes after being unloaded at Auschwitz, beneath the sign that said. ‘Work Sets You Free.” He was the doctor who selected out twin children for his medical experiments. The rest of the children – 200,000 of them – were immediately sent to the gas chamber along with their mother, aunt, sister, grandmother or friendly stranger who had accompanied them on their journey. The tiny leather shoe with the sock still in it is the only evidence this child existed at all, his life extinguished.
800,000 more Jews were immediately sent to their deaths in the gas
chambers, 2000 at a time, their bodies thrown into crematoria that worked 24/7
to keep up with the factory-scale exterminations, their ashes thrown into a
Out of the 1.1 million “deported” to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi
killing camps, only 200,000 were “selected” not for immediate death but to
become slave labor in the concentration camp. They too were immediately marched
into showers, their hair shaved, their arms tattooed, their bodies stripped of
any dignity or humanness. Few lived more than a month or two under the
atrocious conditions – dying of starvation, disease, overwork, beatings or
simply shot on the spot. Some became so infirm, they settled into their fate,
and welcomed being carried by stretcher to end their daily terror and pain.
Others, packed six to a wooden plank in the barracks, would wake up to find a
dead person next to them.
“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” offers a different perspective on the Holocaust, a horror on a scale that is incomprehensible, by focusing down to the most personal elements.
This exhibit, which focuses down to one “tiny dot” on a map that was the
largest killing camp in the Nazi’s network – makes it as personal as is
possible. You walk in their shoes. And yet, as well as they show the faces, the
horrors, the personal objects, the testimonials of survivors, the drawings and photos,
an actual freight car and an actual barracks, even so, it is still hard to
Indeed, the incomprehensibility of the horror was key to its success – along
with secrecy and deception. People could not imagine the level of brutality,
cruelty, savageness. So they packed up what they could in suitcases, expecting
they were being resettled to places free of anti-Semitism, where they could
work and live out their lives.
It is also the danger that such dehumanization, genocide, industrial-scale
killing can happen again. Indeed, Auschwitz was not that long ago, nor that far
“Auschwitz” isn’t just a look back with graphic evidence to plant a marker in the history books that others are working so hard to erase . It is a look at now, a look at where the trajectory can lead. That is what is embodied in the phrase. “Never Again.”
I had been steeling myself to visit the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum
of Jewish Heritage. I recognized that I had an obligation, a responsibility to
be a witness to the extent possible. A NYC-Arts special on PBS helped
enormously because I could visualize, know what to expect and better prepare
for the horror – unlike the millions who were sent to the killing camps. Then
there was that television screening of the story of Irena Sendler, a Warsaw
nurse who smuggled 2,500 children out of the Ghetto to safety – the film so
graphic, her courage and nobility so palpable. Surely I could summon the
courage to face the past. To Remember. Never Forget.
If you thought you knew about the Holocaust and the Nazis’ Final Solution
that exterminated 6 million Jews and too many (40% of adults and 65% of young
people) don’t know anything at all, this rare exhibit, with artifacts gathered
from 20 institutions around the world, focuses just on Auschwitz – from how a
simple Polish village, Oswiecim where half the population was made up of Jewish
families who had lived there for centuries, was turned into the largest of six
killing factories in Poland. Original artifacts – documents, personal items,
posters, photos – show the roots of anti-Semitism and how being Jewish was
converted from a religion to “an inferior race,” a sub-human species, stripped
of legal, political, property and professional rights. That’s the first floor.
You see and hear from survivors how families were stuffed 100, 150 into a
box car (like the one outside the museum), with the ploy of telling them they
were being resettled to a better place free of anti-Semitism, then locked in
with just one pail as a toilet and one pail for water, so crowded, one had to
stand up in order for someone to sit down. And then they arrive on the “ramp”,
where they are “selected,” crossing under a wrought iron sign that said, “Work
Makes You Free.” That’s just the middle of the second floor.
Here you see stacks of suitcases, a pram (a rare artifact) that eerily reminds
you of the display as you enter Ellis Island, the gateway for millions of
immigrants into the United States. But here, it shows how unwitting the victims
were. Because they were only moments away from being sent to their death. And
because access to safe harbors like the United States were shut off to them.
Turn the corner in a room shrouded in darkness and you come upon a white
door of a gas chamber, a metal mesh chimney down which the Zykon B poison was
sent, a gas mask. In another case, one of the innocuous looking showerheads
that survived the fire the Nazis set to destroy evidence of their Final
Solution. Extraordinarily powerful and horrifying drawings by survivor Alfred Kantor depict how women and
children were told to undress and hang up their clothes on a numbered hook so
they would find them again – “Remember your number.” And then they would be
locked into the gas chamber.
They, too, were told they were going to shower to be de-loused. The Nazis
made a show of having them undress in a changing room, have them put their
clothes on numbered hooks so they could find them again. They were shoved 1000
at a time into a shower room, the doors clanked shut, and Zykon B poison pumped
in. It took barely 15 minutes to exterminate them all.
The door would open at the other end and a group of Jewish prisoners, called
Sonderkommandos, would pull the bodies out one by one, drag them to a dumbwaiter
to the crematoria. To keep the secret safe, the Sonderkommandos were kept
isolated from the rest of the camp, living in barracks above the crematoria. A
rabbi among them, a Hungarian, took each child and said Kaddish before placing
the small body in the crematorium.
But one of the Sonderkommandos, working with Polish resistance, smuggled
a camera and film and took photos of bodies being burned in vast fields with
the overflow that couldn’t be handled in the crematoria, working night and day.
There are four of these photos on display.
The Nazis harvested their victims. As the bodies were pulled from the gas
chamber, a Sonderkommando designated “The Dentist” would pull out their gold
teeth. Their clothes and meager belongings had already been plundered and sent
to “Kanada” – vast warehouses named for a country that was considered rich but
out of reach. Between the various business enterprises that the Nazis used
their slave labor and the looting, it is estimated that each prisoner returned
$794 in profit to the SS.
How were the Nazis able to lead 11 million including 6 million Jews to
slaughter like sheep? The secret is how they kept such a massive killing secret,
and who could have imagined such diabolical cruelty, such grotesque brutality,
who could have imagined a Final Solution?
How did they keep such a monstrous secret? How they managed to move
people by the thousands – trapping them into the freight cars when the people
thought they were being resettled to a pleasant village where they would be
allowed to work. They kept it a secret when immediately upon arriving at
Auschwitz, they were separated into two groups. One line was pushed to showers,
told to strip and were turned into slave labor – their hair shaved, arms tattooed,
all their property stripped away along with their identity, their personhood,
stuffed into a prison uniform with an appropriate identifying symbol as to
You continue on to learn what life was like in Auschwitz for the 200,000
who were not immediately murdered. You listen to harrowing testimonials by survivors,
see part of an actual barracks.
death toll of 1.1 million was the largest
among all the German death camps. But it also had the greatest number of
survivors – some 200,000 people brought to Auschwitz were sent to other camps
before the war ended, and some 7,000 prisoners were liberated at Auschwitz in
You leave this section, which is dark, almost completely black, into a
room called “Persistence and Resistance,” which is off-white, round, with
natural light streaming from a domed ceiling.
Persistence took the form of ways that the prisoners preserved their
Resistance took the form of getting the story of what was going on in
Auschwitz out to the world, in the hopes that the Allies would bomb the killing
center or disrupt the deportations, and preserving evidence that would
ultimately hold perpetrators of such colossal evil accountable.
This is the most moving section of all –
when I can finally start breathing again.
Auschwitz SS aimed to destroy any possible solidarity between prisoners…‘Resistance’
in Auschwitz therefore consisted of acts in which prisoners, against all odds,
showed solidarity with others. It included heroic actions made with a view to
the larger world outside of the camp, grand gestures of generosity and small
acts of kindness and charity, along with spiritual resistance. And it was
expressed in the determination that-despite the best efforts of the SS – death
in Auschwitz would not remain anonymous, and the victims would not remain
I learn the amazing story of Witold
Pilecki, a Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army who had himself arrested under
the name Tomasz Serafinski and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 (prisoner no. 4859) in
order to spy for the Polish government.
managed to smuggle out messages about life and death in the camp while organizing
fellow prisoners. In April 1943, Pilecki escaped, and returned to Warsaw to
convince the Polish Resistance to attack Auschwitz in a coordinated effort with
prisoners. But the commander who had sent him on his mission had been arrested,
and the new leader judged an attack on the large and well-armed Auschwitz
garrison to be suicidal. They also realized they wouldn’t be able to shelter
the tens of thousands of inmates who might be freed. Pilecki wrote the first
full report on conditions of Auschwitz and the mass murder of Jews in the gas
chambers. The allies received the report but ignored it. Pilecki continued to
fight the Germans, participating in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Outrageously, in 1947, he was arrested
by the Polish Communist government, tortured, and executed in 1948.
It was so critical to
get information out that several risked their lives to smuggle information out.
I learn the story of The
Auschwitz Protocols: In March 1944, Slovakian Jewish inmates Walter
Rosenberg (aka Rudolf Vrba) and Alfred Wetzler observed the Nazi’s preparations
for the arrival of transports from Hungary. With a lot of planning and luck,
they escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944 and fled to Slovakia in the hopes
of warning the Jews of Hungary.
The testimony of Vrba and Wetzler, along with
information supplied by Czeslaw Mord