Reagan Library Auschwitz Not Long Ago Not Far Away

German WWII-era Railway Freight Car


One of our darkest periods in history occurred during World War II. The inhumanity dealt to those persecuted during the holocaust is something that we should never forget. Auschwitz Not Long Ago Not Far Away is the world’s largest traveling exhibition about the Nazi’s notorious death camp. Over seven years, the exhibit will travel to 14 cities. The show has been to Spain, Sweden, New York City, London, and South Africa. This joint production between Spanish company Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is currently on display at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley through January 28, 2024.

The posts from part of Auschwitz fence
The posts that made up part of the fence at Auschwitz.

Why Reagan Library

Ronald Reagan served in the First Motion Picture Unit during World War II. The job of the FMPU, creating films to increase enlistments, train service members, build morale, define the enemy, create unity, and promote air power. The unit would receive footage from the war to use for filming. Shortly before Victory Day, they received footage that was to go to the Pentagon once edited. This footage depicted the truth of the horrors of the concentration camps. Those images and those after liberation were ingrained in Ronald Reagan’s mind. 

Once in office, Ronald Reagan issued Proclamation 4838, establishing a Holocaust Memorial Council, whose job was to create a living memorial for the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The idea, “mankind will never lose memory of that terrible moment in time when the awful spectre of death camps stained the history of our world.”

Reagan’s belief that these horrors of World War II must never be forgotten makes the Reagan Library the ideal location for this expansive exhibit on Auschwitz.

The Lone Red Dress Shoe in the Auschwitz Not Long Ago Not Far Away
The Lone Red Dress Shoe represents the piles of shoes found at Auschwitz.

Auschwitz Not Long Ago Not Far Away – The Exhibit

Like the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., this exhibit starts at the beginning, explaining how prejudice and bigotry led to the murderous extension of millions of people. Its roots began centuries before World War II. It was always there but had not become institutionalized by a totalitarian regime.

The social and economic conditions post World War I created a perfect breeding ground to direct people’s fears and anger against already oppressed ethnic groups. The exhibit functions mainly to answer the question as to why the holocaust happened. It does it with artifacts, photographs, and testimonies from those who experienced it. It adds a new level of understanding to the eternal question of why it happened. At the end of the exhibit, you will have that answer.

Yellow badge worn by Jewish people during World War II
Yellow badge worn by Jewish people

Auschwitz Not Long Ago Not Far Away – From My Perspective

For me, it resonated because it parallels our world today, especially with the prejudice and bigotry we are currently witnessing.

Although I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, I gained new knowledge of the timetable. I never realized that The Final Solution occurred after the United States entered the war. I also never realized that only those taken to Auschwitz received the numbered tattoo.

Painting depicting the atrocities at Auschwitz
Painting depicting the atrocities at Auschwitz

My awareness of the bigotry towards gays with the enactment of Paragraph 175 of the penal code became apparent. This code criminalized male homosexuals. They were marked with a pink triangle. Even after liberation, the law remained on the books until the late 1960s. In the 1970s that gay rights activists inverted the pink triangle and used it to symbolize gay pride. It was not just the pink triangle but other colored symbols used by the Gestapo to fill the camps for slave labor by incarcerating Jehovah’s Witnesses, the homeless, criminals, emigrants, and more.

Badges that prisoners wore at Auschwitz
Various colored badges delineated different groups at Auschwitz.

The exhibit’s title Auschwitz Not Long Ago Not Far Away, reminds us of the quote from Winston Churchill, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We need not forget or be complacent because it could occur again.

As German Pastor Martin Niemöller, who was incarcerated from 1937-45 at the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, said, “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Social-Democrats, and I did not speak out because I was not a Social-Democrat. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. They came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This passage is another reminder that we cannot sit back idly and ignore clues in our environment or the truth.

Bunk in Prisoners Barrack at Auschwitz
Bunk in Prisoners Barrack at Auschwitz

To view the Auschwitz Not Long Ago Not Far Away, the Reagan Library requires you purchase tickets ahead of your visit.

Although I received hosted tickets to Auschwitz Not Long Ago Not Far Away, I wrote this article reflecting the exhibit’s impact on me.

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