2021: History Boy Summer (Part 14) Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away at Union Station

Normally when I do these, I am visiting local historical sites and talking about historical events that happened in the Western Missouri, Eastern Kansas areas. This entry is a bit different because I was able to attend a traveling exhibit at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. Union Station usually does one or two big exhibits per year, and they are almost ALWAYS incredible. If you head over to my other blog, I have a similar review up for an exhibit on Stonehenge from a few years ago. I wanted to see this exhibit because I was able to visit an actual concentration camp in 2001 in Munich, Germany. That experience was sobering, as being able to see the actual buildings such as ovens or a gas chamber clearly labeled “brausebad” (lit “shower bath”) over the top made it that much more real rather than reading about it in a history book. At that time, there wasn’t much of a “museum” or sorts at Dachau (to my recollection, I could be mis-remembering from 20 years ago), so I was unable to see too many artifacts. When given the opportunity to see these items leave Poland and Germany for the US for the first time ever was an experience I had to have. Seeing that Auschwitz is notoriously “the worst” of all concentration camps, I knew this was going to be heavy.

Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away at Union Station; Kansas City, Missouri

Advice time: If you are in the area and want to see this – good luck going on a weekend prior to January of 2022 (the last month it’s open). I was able to go on a Tuesday morning without too many issues, and I see that its open on certain government holidays as well in case work makes it impossible to see during the week. I have posted the official website below for ticketing information. Also, be sure to buy the hardcover book upon ticket purchase. It’s 45 dollars, but is huge and good value for the price. It basically sums up the entire exhibit in case you miss anything. I have no idea if this can be purchased in any way other than the museum, but I do see it on Amazon, so there is that as well.

Background

According to Union Station’s official site for this exhibit:

This groundbreaking exhibition brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world. Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, and an unparalleled opportunity to confront the singular face of human evil—one that arose not long ago and not far away.

Official Website

And general info from Wikipedia:

“Auschwitz concentration camp was a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland (in a portion annexed into Germany in 1939) during World War II and the Holocaust. It consisted of Auschwitz I, the main camp (Stammlager) in Oświęcim; Auschwitz II-Birkenau, a concentration and extermination camp with gas chambers; Auschwitz III-Monowitz, a labor camp for the chemical conglomerate IG Farben; and dozens of subcamps. The camps became a major site of the Nazis’ Final Solution to the Jewish Question. […] In May 1940, German criminals brought to the camp as functionaries, established the camp’s reputation for sadism. Prisoners were beaten, tortured, and executed for the most trivial reasons. The first gassings—of Soviet and Polish prisoners—took place in block 11 of Auschwitz I around August 1941. Construction of Auschwitz II began the following month, and from 1942 until late 1944 freight trains delivered Jews from all over German-occupied Europe to its gas chambers. Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million died. The death toll includes 960,000 Jews (865,000 of whom were gassed on arrival), 74,000 ethnic Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and up to 15,000 other Europeans.[7] Those not gassed died of starvation, exhaustion, disease, individual executions, or beatings. Others were killed during medical experiments.”

Reading

Prior to this trip, I read The Commandant of Auschwitz – Rudolf Höss by Volker Koop. I wanted to look into the mindset of a man that was so ruthless that he could oversee the wholesale murder of over a million people, then claim he had no idea that was going on under his watch. It’s an infuriating and depressing read, as with anything involving The Holocaust, but I felt like it was important.

The Trip

Union Station was not too busy when I attended this exhibit – due to The Covid-19 Global Pandemic you have to arrange tickets online, and only a certain amount of people are allowed in each 30 minute increment. Masks were required, and at no time did I feel unsafe in attending. Patrons are provided with these devices that can be best described as an MP3 player of sorts and a headset, all cleaned after each use. These devices act as a guided tour for everyone during the exhibit. at various points, you will see a number on the wall or an object that coincides with an audio segment that gives more insight and background to everything. This blew me away and is easily the best guided tour thing I have ever seen in any museum. I honestly hope more adopt it as it really helps make the exhibit feel important.

In total, the exhibit took me two hours and some change, but I can imagine it would be somewhere between 2-2.5 hours for most people. My only real issue were people standing in front of exhibit pieces listening to their device blocking the view. I adopted a system where I would go around an area, read all the signs the stand away from everyone and go through the videos. This seemed to help me stay away from people and ensured I wasn’t stuck in any sort of bottlenecks.

The most jarring items in the exhibit were the things about children. There is a simple child’s shoe at one point, where you can see balled up socks tucked inside as if the kid thought he was going to have a quick shower then go out an play or something. Sadly, it’s almost guaranteed that was the last thing the child did before his life was ripped from him by the monstrous regime of Adolf Hitler. I didn’t cry in this area, but I felt anxious and teared up a bit. It was very uncomfortable as it should be. I have included this in one of my pictures above.

Conclusion

This is both a VERY important exhibit and an extremely heavy one to experience. It’s well put together, and honestly has one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen. It’s on the expensive side ($25 per person) but its well worth the money considering the content and how long it takes to get through. I plan to go back with my girlfriend at some point to see what she thinks, as I feel like everyone that can see this, should. In a time when people go to YouTube to come up with all sorts of inane alternate versions of history that they can, something like this really could ground someone and show them why we do certain things like we do. Seeing people constantly equating things of slight annoyance to The Holocaust, or Nazis gets tiresome, and seeing something like this definitely shows why. Here’s hoping nothing like this EVER happens again, and if it does, hopefully we can stop it.

This article is part of my summer series History Boy Summer, which you can keep up with by following this LINK.

One comment

  1. […] I somehow never managed to go to the “old” version of the Truman Library – this is despite the fact that my Grandfather actually worked for some of his family in Kansas, and the fact that I’ve lived in Independence for a few years now. Then again, I wasn’t taken on too many crazy car trips when I was super young, so there is that. I knew that when I moved to Independence, I needed to rectify the situation, but no sooner than I planned to go, they ended up rebuilding the whole thing! So here it is, after a multi-million dollar renovation that took a couple of years to complete, I was able to secure some tickets to the newly re-opened museum during the first few weeks of it’s re-opening. In hindsight, I probably should have waited a few months, because it was somewhat crowded, and the giftshop was not completed. Granted I’m not really in the market for a Truman Coffee mug or anything, but you all know I like to read books in conjunction with these. Thankfully masks were encouraged, and I was able to avoid being too close to people – it was less packed than the Auschwitz exhibit. […]

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