Tag Archives: Museum of Jewish Heritage

New York City Virtually: Greatest Cultural Institutions, Closed for Coronavirus, Share Exhibits Online

The Metropolitan Museum of Art may be temporarily closed, but you can explore its collections virtually © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is celebrating its 150 anniversary year, has temporarily closed all three locations—The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters—effective March 13. Meanwhile, you can watch videos from exhibition previews to curator talks and performances (https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia)) and experience the best of human creativity from every corner of the globe at The Met (I love watching the video of the conservation of the Degas tutu, https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/video/conservation-and-scientific-research/degas-tutu-conservation) and play audio guides (https://www.metmuseum.org/visit/audio-guide)

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.

“Our galleries may be closed, but never fear! Social media never sleeps.” Follow @metmuseum on Instagram for Tuesday Trivia, #MetCameos, and daily art content.

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.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph is featured in MoMA’s exhibit “Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures”. Meanwhile, take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?

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).

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History. While the museum is closed, go online to its “Explore” site for videos, blogs and OLogy, a science website for kids of all ages. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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)

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC. While the exhibit is closed, there are excellent materials online. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is in the midst of the landmark exhibit, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. The most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition about Auschwitz ever presented in North America, the exhibit had already been extended until August 30, 2020. The museum so far is scheduled to reopen March 29; in the meanwhile, there are excellent materials at the website that will inform and prepare you for when the exhibit reopens (https://mjhnyc.org/discover-the-exhibition/about-the-exhibition/). (See Groundbreaking Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage Transports to ‘Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away’)

New-York Historical Society presents “Women March” exhibit marking centennial of Women’s Suffrage. Many materials are online, but you can also re-visit some of the N-YHS’s imortant past exhibits, like a personal favorite, “Harry Potter: A History of Magic.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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)

Meanwhile, some outdoor venues are open, as of this writing (the situation has changed daily):

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.

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Groundbreaking Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage Transports to ‘Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away’

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen 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?

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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 river.

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.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“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 comprehend.

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 away.

“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.”

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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 their status.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Indeed, Auschwitz  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 January 1945.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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 humanity.

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.

The 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 without names.

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.

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. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He 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 Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin, who escaped Auschwitz on May 27, 1944, yielded the first substantial report of the use of Auschwitz as a death factory. It became known as the “Auschwitz Protocols” and detailed the continuing massacres in the gas chambers. But the information didn’t reach the Hungarians in time: beginning in May, over 400,000 Jews were deported and murdered. A summary of the report arrived in the US in July. That same month, the Red Army’s liberation of the Majdanek camp led to the publication in the US of sensational reports written by well-known journalists in America media. Though it didn’t succeed in its primary objective, the Auschwitz Protocols led to diplomatic pressure that forced the Hungarian government [the leader now fearing he would be tried for war crimes] to stop further deportations, saving the lives of over 150,000 Jews. It also triggered a debate among the Allies: what parts of Auschwitz could or should be bombed.

On August 20, Allied bombers attacked the IG Farben factory, but not Auschwitz camps.

“I firmly believed that [the daily killing in the crematoria] was possible because the victims who came to Auschwitz didn’t know what was happening there,” Auschwitz survivor Rudolf Vrba wrote in 1985. “I thought that if this would be made known by any means within Europe, this might stir up the Resistance outside and bring help directly to Auschwitz. And thus the escape plans are finally formulated and the escape took place on April 7, 1944.

The Sonderkommandos organized an ill-fated revolt in October 1944.

Roza Robota recruited women prisoners working in the munitions factory operating next to the camp to smuggle gunpowder off-site. Robota passed it to Timofei Borodin, a Russian technician, who carried it to the Sonderkommandos. Their aim was to destroy the crematoria and spark a rebellion.

But the uprising went awry. The Sonderkommandos of Crematorium 5, hearing they were to b e gassed, revolted ahead of schedule. On October 7, they killed 3 SS, wounded 12 and burned down Crematorium 4. At the same time, the Sonderkommandos of Crematorium 2 attempted a breakout.

In retaliation the SS killed 451 Sonderkommandos. The camp Gestapo identified Robota and three other Jewish women – Regina Sapirstein, Ala Gertner and Ester Wajeblum – as plotters. After weeks of torture they were hanged publicly. As the noose was placed around her neck, Robota cried out ‘Nekama;’ (Revenge!)

Ester Wajeblum “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Auschwitz Sonderkommando Zalman Groiadowski (Sept 6, 1944), leaves a note. “Dear finder, search everywhere, in every inch of soil. Tons of documents are buried under it, mine and those of other persons, which will throw light on everything that was happening here. Great quantities of teeth are also buried here. We, the Sonderkommando workers, have expressly strewn them all over the terrain so that the world should find material traces of the millions of murdered people…”

Socks reinforced to muffle footsteps. Some 300,000 Jews went into hiding to avoid being rounded up and deported to concentration camps.“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This groundbreaking 18,000-square-foot exhibition takes up three floors, 20 thematic galleries. Through the artifacts and Holocaust survivor testimony, it brings you inside and re-creates the experience as best as possible, raising the alarm how the unimaginable, the inconceivable happened and can happen again. The commentary notes that one demagogue like Hitler could not have produced the Holocaust.

“Genocide is a social act,” the audio guide says toward the end of the exhibit. “It requires a society who conspires…But the same society can resist.”

Nazis attempted to burn all evidence of their atrocities. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But there is one question that is not answered: who, what and how those who administered torture, who beat and murdered and presided over such intense suffering. That is a critical question to knowing whether such a thing could happen again. Just what percentage of a given population are sociopaths?

There are some clues provided in the statements that are presented:

Once Hitler had decided that the “Final Solution” would be enacted, one important question remained: Who was to be in charge of the genocide? Heinrich Himmler sought this responsibility as he believed it would help him consolidate his power.

Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoss (1946) testified, “I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. I did not think his methods were very efficient. I used Zykon B, a crystallized prussic acid dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from three to 15 minutes to kill the people. Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process.”

“The children, they’re not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood inside them. The enemy is the growing up to be a Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that the children were included as well.” (Former Auschwitz SS man Oskar Groning explaining in a 2004 interview why he condoned killing Jewish children).

The exhibition explores the dual identity of the camp as a physical location—the largest documented mass murder site in human history—and as a symbol of the borderless manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.

Consider this: Jews had lived in Germany for 1000 years before the Holocaust; they had lived in the Polish town of Oswiecim.that the Germans renamed Auschwitz and repurposed for a killing factory for hundreds of years. It was only 10 quick years between when Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor in 1933, to the Final Solution in 1942. By the time Germany surrendered, two years later, 6 million Jews – two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population – had been exterminated.

That’s how fast things can descend into unimaginable evil.

Groundbreaking Exhibition

Produced by the international exhibition firm Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, the groundbreaking exhibition is the largest ever on Auschwitz with more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs. The New York presentation of the exhibition allows visitors to experience artifacts from more than 20 international museums and institutions on view for the first time in North America, including hundreds of personal items—suitcases, eyeglasses and shoes—that belonged to survivors and victims of Auschwitz. Other artifacts include: concrete posts that were part of the fence of the Auschwitz camp; part of an original barrack for prisoners from the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp; a desk and other possessions of the first and the longest-serving Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss; a gas mask used by the SS; Picasso’s Lithograph of Prisoner; and an original German-made Model 2 freight train car of the type used for the deportation of Jews to the ghettos and extermination camps in occupied Poland. 

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition also features 10 artifacts on loan from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which include the spilled, dried beans Anne wrote about in her diary and that were later discovered lodged between the cracks of stairs in the home where she hid from the German Nazis. The beans have never been displayed anywhere before. Most recently, the Museum announced the exhibition’s incorporation of a shofar (a ram’s horn that is made into a special wind instrument used during Jewish High Holiday services) that was hidden and clandestinely blown in the Auschwitz. The shofar was newly added to the exhibition on the cusp of the High Holy days and temporarily transported to two New York City synagogues to be blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

The Museum of Jewish Heritage has incorporated into the exhibition nearly 100 rare artifacts from its collection that relay the experience of survivors and liberators who found refuge in the greater New York area. Alfred Kantor’s sketchbook and portfolio that contain over 150 original paintings and drawings from Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Schwarzheide; the trumpet that musician Louis Bannet (acclaimed as “the Dutch Louis Armstrong”) credits for saving his life while he was imprisoned in Auschwitz; visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania often referred to as “Japan’s Oskar Schindler”; prisoner registration forms and identification cards; personal correspondence; tickets for passage on the St. Louis; and a rescued Torah scroll from the Bornplatz Synagogue in Hamburg, postcards sent home in order to deceive family members as to what was really going on at the camp. 

A rare film of a killing field. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most profound is a film that has survived showing a killing field in which the killers are so casual, even bored by the routine as villagers look on, and the four photos of Crematorium 5 smuggled out by Alberto Errera, a Jewish-Greek army officer who joined the resistance during the German occupation, assuming the name Aleksos (Alex) Michaelides. Captured, Errera was sent to Auschwitz in April 1944 and selected for the Sonderkommando. On August 9, Errera attempted an escape but was captured, tortured and killed.

One of four photos smuggled by Alberto Errera of bodies being burned in a desperate effort to notify the world. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most poignant are the video testimonials of survivors describing their personal experiences.

Also on display from the Museum of Jewish Heritage collection is Heinrich Himmler’s SS helmet and his annotated copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as well as an anti-Jewish proclamation issued in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring by German security chief Reinhard Heydrich on the occasion of Göring’s birthday. The proclamation required Jews to identify themselves with a “yellow ring” on their clothes. Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s work. “These artifacts stand as evidence of a chapter of history that must never be forgotten.”

The information is presented as clearly, simply, directly, forth-rightly and in excruciatingly personal terms, but it is all still so hard to comprehend, to process, the magnitude, the scale of cruelty.

The artifacts and materials in the exhibition are on loan from more than 20 institutions and private collections around the world. In addition to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, participating institutions include Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, and the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London. 

Parallel Lives: One wall shows photos of Nazis frolicking at Auschwitz; the other the “Lost World”of Jews before the Holocaust. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far awaywas conceived of by Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and curated by an international panel of experts, including world-renowned scholars Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, and Paul Salmons, in an unprecedented collaboration with historians and curators at the Research Center at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, led by Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz.

“When we, the Musealia curatorial team set out to design the Auschwitz exhibition, we realized that we faced a difficult problem. In Auschwitz over a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered shortly after their arrival or suffered and died in unimaginable circumstances. How does one create an exhibition about such a dark chapter in human history that, in our understanding, is not long ago and happened in a place not far away? How does one make the public, that has so many opportunities to explore a great city like New York, decide that it would want to see such an exhibition? Our tools were straightforward: a narrative told through more than 700 original artifacts, 400 original images, 100 stories, made present by means of filmed testimonies and quotes – all revealing individual experiences of a history we must learn from,” said Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, Chief Curator.

Following the New York presentation, the exhibition will tour to other cities around the world.

Visiting

You need 2 ½ to four hours to see just this exhibit (I was there five hours before I realized it). hours).

Entry is by timed ticket available at Auschwitz.nyc. Audio guide (available in 8 languages) is included with admission. Tickets are $25 Flexible Entry (entry any time on a specific day); $16 Adults; $12 Seniors and People with Disabilities; $10 Students and Veterans; $8 Museum Members.

FREE for Holocaust survivors, active members of the military and first responders, and students and teachers through grade 12 in schools located in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (with valid school-issued ID). 

Garden of Stones is a memorial garden planted by the artist, Andy Goldsworthy, Holocaust survivors and families, overlooks the Statue of Liberty. Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. The third largest Holocaust museum in the world and the second largest in North America, since 1997, the Museum of Jewish Heritage has welcomed more than 2.5 million visitors; it maintains a collection of more than 40,000 artifacts, photographs, documentary films, and survivor testimonies and contains classrooms, a 375-seat theater (Edmond J. Safra Hall), special exhibition galleries, a resource center for educators, and a memorial art installation, Garden of Stones, designed by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Set in the southernmost tip of Manhattan overlooking the New York Harbor, the Museum completes the cultural and educational triad with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, visible from its balcony.

The Museum also partners with Jewish Heritage Travel – offering heritage trips  to Germany & France; Poland; The Baltics; Germany; Spain & France; Argentina; and India (jhtravel.org, 845-256-0197).

The Museum is closed on Saturdays, Jewish holidays, and Thanksgiving. 

Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, 36 Battery Place, New York City, 646-437-4202, mjhnyc.org.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in Yiddish is a Theater Experience Not to be Missed; Off-Broadway Run Extended to Jan. 5

A standing ovation for the cast of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, now playing at Stage 42, off-Broadway in New York City through Jan. 5, 2020 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, David Leiberman & Laini Miranda, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

So often, when reviving a theater icon like Fiddler on the Roof, there is the need to find a new, unique, creative way to make it their own, to reinterpret, re-envision to give new audiences a different entry way. And too often, that manipulation warps or distorts what made the theatrical experience so precious to begin with. But you don’t have to insert modern inventions into Fiddler for its moral, both universal and specific, to be relevant to today’s audiences. In fact, it is much more profound to be transported back to that time, 1904, for its truth to be fully realized.

Fiddler on the Roof has that most important aspect of a true classic, to touch every emotion, make you see things more insightfully, to have a real moral to the story, and leave you a better, more understanding person afterward – and be entertained.

Directed by Oscar and Tony Award-winner Joel Grey, Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (in Yiddish, A Fidler Afn Dakh) adds new depth and dimension to this heart-wrenching story of a community struggling to balance traditions against the forces and threats of a changing world. The little town of Anatevka reverberates with the sounds of mame-loshn (ancestral language).

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, brings you closer, more engaged, immerses you.  The experience seems even more authentic, more intimate.

Partly this is because the Yiddish language, is so expressive – some of the earliest musicals in New York were in Yiddish (Yiddish theater thrived in New York between 1888 and the 1920s; there is even a Museum of Yiddish Theater, www.museumofyiddishtheater.org) – and in a surprising way even familiar. There are words we New Yorkers know very well (meshuganah comes up a lot), and it seems every so often the Yiddish word is similar to English. But you can follow along, opera-style, with titles (in English and Russian!).  

But it is also because Yiddish is the mame-loshn, the ancestral language. It gives the story more authenticity. You are there, in this place so far away. Perhaps you even understand the challenge when the inhabitants of this village, indeed all the Jews from all the villages, are driven from their homes on three days notice to a strange place where they will understand no one and no one will understand them.

One of the most celebrated musicals of all time, Fiddler on The Roof, based on Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman stories, features the sensational music by Jerry Bock, meaningful lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and smart book by Joseph Stein, with original New York stage production directed and choreographed by the greatJerome Robbins. This production, brilliantly directed by Joel Grey, has staging and new choreography by Stas Kimec.

We noticed just small deviations from the original book, and a new song that emerges from Pertshik’s biblical lesson, that enhance the experience (not too smart or gimmicky), but otherwise, it is gloriously faithful to one of the best musical theater works ever created.

The direction by Joel Grey is exquisite – just the right timing, emphasis, emotion. These characters seem more approachable, especially without distractions of a complicated set. The Tevye character, played by Steven Skybell (who won the 2019 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Lead Actor) is more sensitive, loving, nuanced than the character is usually played.

The Jews of Anatevka are clad all in grey, white and black – as if looking back in time at old photos or film, or perhaps as letters out of a book – only the Russians have a touch of red and Fiadkah’s outfit is sufficiently differentiated from his erstwhile comrades.

The set is sparse, but you don’t even realize it – long strips of what looks like parchment of Torah scrolls with one with the only world, in Hebrew lettering, Torah that binds the community throughout the ages and is the underpinning to tradition. That hones the message but also focuses attention on the people.

The staging and choreography is fabulous – there are all our favorites: the bottle dance at the wedding; the Russian dance. I loved the way the dream sequence is staged. The voices and acting of a brilliant company are sensational.

And most importantly, a timeless tale more important than ever that needs to be told in these times.

The original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, which opened in 1964, was the first musical theater production in history to surpass 3,000 performances, won the 1965 Tony Award for Best Musical in addition to eight other Tony Awards that year and has performed in every metropolitan city in the world from Paris to Beijing.

The Yiddish translation, so artfully crafted by Israeli actor/director Shraga Friedman, was originally performed in Israel in 1965 just one year after its Broadway debut. Born in Warsaw, Friedman was a native Yiddish speaker who escaped war-torn Europe with his family and made their way to Tel Aviv in 1941. “Well acquainted with the works of Sholem Aleichem, Friedman used his translation to infuse Fiddler with rich literary references to the original Yiddish stories.”

The NYTF production, which was originally staged at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, marks the first time the Yiddish version has been performed in the United States.

There is no problem following what is going on – much like opera, there are supertitles in English and Russian on both sides of the stage throughout the entire performance that translate what is being said or sung on stage in real time. The show is so familiar that it isn’t even necessary, but I enjoyed reading the nuances of difference. And the great surprise is how familiar some of the words are, either because Yiddish expressions have entered the vernacular (at least in New York), or because of the connection to English.

The complete cast of Fiddler on the Roof includes award-winning Steven Skybell (as Tevye), Emmy Award nominee Jackie Hoffman (as Yente), Jennifer Babiak (as Golde), Joanne Borts (as Sheyndl), Lisa Fishman (as Bobe Tsatyl), Kirk Geritano (as Avrom), Samantha Hahn (as Beylke), Cameron Johnson (as Fyedka), Ben Liebert (as Motl Kamzoyl), Stephanie Lynne Mason (as Hodl), Evan Mayer (as Sasha), Rosie Jo Neddy (as Khave), Raquel Nobile (as Shprintze), Nick Raynor (as Yosl), Bruce Sabath (as Leyzer Volf), Drew Seigla (as Perchik), Adam B. Shapiro (as Der Rov), Jodi Snyder (as Frume-Sore), James Monroe Števko (as Mendl), Lauren Jeanne Thomas (as Der Fiddler), Bobby Underwood (as Der Gradavoy), Mikhl Yashinsky (as Nokhum / Mordkhe), and Rachel Zatcoff (as Tsaytl).

Ensemble members include Michael EinavJonathan Quigley, and Kayleen Seidl. Swings include Abby Goldfarb and John Giesige, and Moshe Lobel serves as understudy for the production.

The creative team for the production features new choreography by Staś Kmieć (based on the original choreography by Jerome Robbins), musical direction by Zalmen Mlotek, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, sound design by Dan Moses Schreier, lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski, wig & hair design by Tom Watson, and props design by Addison Heeren.

Fiddler on the Roof  is produced off-Broadway by Hal Luftig and Jana Robbins, in association withSandy Block.

This production of Fiddler on the Roof  is the winner of the 2019 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical Revival, a 2019 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award Special Citation, and star Steven Skybell is the winner of the 2019 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical, as well as numerous nominations for Joe Grey as director, for orchestration, Lucille Lortel nominee for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Jackie Hoffman.

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, a production of the remarkable National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF), began its life with a celebrated run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where it had been extended multiple times and played its final performance on December 30, 2018. This production at the Stage 42 Theater has been extended multiple times as well, and now is extended again, through January 5, 2020.

NYTF has its own remarkable history: founded in 1915 the award-winning NYTF is the longest continuously producing Yiddish theater company in the world and offers regular productions. The company is presenting a season of four mainstage productions, concerts and readings curated to accompany the exhibit Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away. now on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through Jan. 3, 2020 (https://mjhnyc.org/exhibitions/auschwitz/).

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is a theater experience not to be missed.

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is at Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues), New York, NY, 10036. For the most current performance schedule and tickets, see http://fiddlernyc.com. Tickets are on sale for performances through Jan. 5, 2020. https://nytf.org/fiddler-on-the-roof/ 

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures