by Kalen Michals, Simmons University
The collection of artifacts presented at “Auschwitz: Not long ago, Not far away” are unlike others I have seen before. Carefully curated, they range from a handmade hair comb to a Torah rescued from a synagogue on Kristallnacht. These items, ranging in size and significance, allow us to follow the narratives of those who once held them. The metal comb, made in the barracks of Auschwitz, tells the story of a young woman who yearned to feel human again. The Torah scroll, which was once safe in an ark, was rescued by one of its worshipers who knew that it would not live to see dawn. These interpersonal and fascinating stories are kept alive for one sole reason; their owners, or rescuers, lived to tell the tale.
Presented in a glass observation chamber is a collection of shaving supplies. Razors, shaving cream tins, and brushes made from badger fur lay on display. These items, perhaps as personal as a comb, are presented much differently, for they lack the attachment of a personal narrative. These items do not carry the legacy of their once owners, but instead accentuate the abundance of untold stories that flood the museum.
The array of personal items on display and the photographs plastered across the exhibit walls highlight one extremely devastating fact: we do not know the victims. Had someone said this to me several years ago, I would have scoffed and proceeded to attempt to prove them wrong. I would have listed how Jews were often highly incorporated in society, and followed with their possible hobbies, interests, professions, and lifestyles. My argument, however, would have merely been speculation. Yes, the young boy whose photograph is framed on the wall might have grown up to be a doctor. And yes, the woman next to him might have longed to be a dancer. But truthfully, we often do not know. And although the accounts of bravery, love, and resilience, live through the memoirs of the survivors, we must acknowledge the untold stories of those who were never given a voice.
To personalize the destruction of the Holocaust, we often come up with stories of the Jews who once lived. The victims, both the murdered and the survivors, often have their history altered to seem “relatable.” This strategy, often done for educational purposes, forces the student to take a personal interest in the individual in discussion, and therefore, possibly the Holocaust as a whole. But, by crafting fictional stories of those who lived very real, complex lives, are we respectfully remembering those who did not live to tell their stories?