Greenspon Center Concludes Historic Seeing Auschwitz Exhibit, Leaving a Legacy of Lasting Impact

In antisemitism, Holocaust, Home, Queens University by Judy Schindler1 Comment

by Judy LaPietra

The Greenspon Center began the bittersweet work to dismantle the nine-week Seeing Auschwitz exhibit in earnest in late April. The powerful images that were so meticulously recreated and placed for impact were wrapped up with care and remain stored at the Greenspon Center in the hopes that they will educate in the future. The audio guides were packed up and shipped back to Amsterdam. The rented exhibit space at the VAPA Center was restored to its pre-exhibit state, with walls coming down and holes being patched, as if nothing ever took place in that space.

But something very powerful that will endure did take place in that space over nine weeks this past spring. Our community was afforded an opportunity to witness a unique photographic exhibit that asked us to look beyond photos of the Auschwitz camp and reflect on what the images mean for us today. The Greenspon Center easily quantified the impact of the exhibit, with over 15,500 visitors representing all segments of the area population, including over 6700 students of all ages to senior groups who required visit assistance. Each morning school buses ascended on the VAPA Center from throughout our region to deliver thousands of area students to the exhibit resulting in maximized capacity. Such numbers are exceptional in our local museum community. We can quantify feedback as visitors ranked the exhibit as 4.9/5 and reported that they would highly recommend Seeing Auschwitz to others. In fact, many returned to the exhibit to engage with it more than one time. While these numbers are impressive and exceeded expectations, it is perhaps in the qualitative responses that we see the true impact of this exhibit.

How do we begin to measure emotional responses to such a powerful exhibit? For many visitors their experience culminated in tears. Many people looked to immediately discuss what they saw with the exhibit attendants as a means of processing the content. For others, words did not come easily. Some verbatim comments from visitors included:

“The exhibit left one speechless, but that’s the issue wasn’t it…when good people said nothing ….one of the best exhibits in CLT…harrowing.”

“Thank you for this exhibit!! Wow!! I took lots of pictures. I will be sharing them on Facebook this week.”

“It was a very powerful experience! I observed my students being really engaged and deeply reflective. I particularly appreciated how the exhibits were curated to juxtapose the lackadaisical attitudes of the Nazi guards with the evils they were perpetrating; it really brought home to students the importance of awareness of humanitarian issues.”

“Incredibly put together, an experience far more emotional than I could have ever imagined.

 

Such outcomes speak to the power of Holocaust education. However, the more complex question to be asked is if such emotional responses will translate into action. Did Seeing Auschwitz provide visitors with a call to conscience? Was it enough to just be moved? These difficult questions are not easily answered; however, it is in the asking of them that we begin to understand the Holocaust as a warning and confront the challenges of our time.

Although the exhibit was neatly dismantled, its impact will most assuredly endure. Studies have concluded that exposure to Holocaust history has the potential to encourage upstander behavior and a willingness to confront hatred in all its forms. While Seeing Auschwitz provided visitors with only a small snapshot of Holocaust history and the ramifications of unchecked hatred, we can be assured that many visitors were prompted to reflect on our world today and to consider the power of the individual in the face of antisemitism, violence and indifference. In a time when Holocaust history is trivialized and distorted, the Greenspon Center remains committed to ensuring that the historical truth not be compromised and that we continue to grapple with difficult questions in our changing world.

Comments

  1. Thank you for all your efforts to make the world a better place.

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