The Atlantic

Auschwitz Is Not a Metaphor

The new exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage gets everything right—and fixes nothing.
Source: Spencer Platt / Getty

The week I bought my advance timed-entry tickets for “Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away,” the massive blockbuster exhibition that opened in May at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan, there was a swastika drawn on a desk in my children’s public middle school. It was not a big deal. The school did everything right: It informed parents; teachers talked to kids; they held an already scheduled assembly with a Holocaust survivor. Within the next few months, the public middle school in the adjacent town had six swastikas. That school also did everything right. Six swastikas were also not a big deal.

“Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away” is a big deal. It is such a big deal that the Museum of Jewish Heritage had to alter its floor plan to accommodate it, making room for large-scale displays such as a reconstructed barracks. Outside the museum’s front door, there is a cattle car parked on the sidewalk; online, you can watch video footage showing how it was placed there by a crane. The exhibition received massive news coverage, including segments on network TV. When I arrived before the museum opened, the line for ticket holders was already snaking out the door. In front of the cattle car, a jogger was talking loudly on a cellphone about pet sitters.

When I was 15 years old, I went to the Auschwitz-Birkenau site museum in Poland. I was there with March of the Living, a program that brings thousands of Jewish teenagers from around

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