KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Four original, concrete posts from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp were unboxed Wednesday at Union Station in preparation for an upcoming Holocaust exhibit.
The posts – 13 feet tall and 551 pounds – will be the first thing visitors see when they walk into "Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away," which opens June 14.
"They will see the posts, they will see small artifacts from victims they will not understand. And then to understand exactly what this meant, they need to go for the rest of the exhibition," Exhibition Director Luis Ferreiro said.
Electrified barbed wire ran between the posts, serving as a painful symbol to prisoners at the camp where more than 1 million people – mostly Jews – lost their lives from 1940 to 1945 at the camp.
Ferreiro said he remembers walking through the exhibit with a Holocaust survivor, and the man told him that the posts and the barbed wire were like a paradox: It meant the limit of the prisoners' freedom but also a means of escape, as some prisoners electrocuted themselves in the fences to leave the hell they were living in.
For these reasons, Ferreiro said, the exhibit, which features more than 700 artifacts, is complicated and emotional.
Crews from Poland and New York came to Kansas City, Missouri, unloading crates full of artifacts well into the early morning on Wednesday. The exhibit was previously at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.
"These posts were made by prisoners of the camp. It was very tough and dangerous work," Dawid Pasierb, conservator at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, said. "The conservation department is responsible to keep the object in the best possible condition."
The crews will check to see if any of the concrete has corroded and will fill in any cracks with a similar material.
Union Station has been working for five years to bring the exhibit to Kansas City, which is its last – and only – stop in the Midwest.
"This is the time for Kansas City and our community to really embrace and understand the story that happened not long ago, not far away," George Guastello, president of Union Station, said. "It's an opportunity for our community to have dialogue on diversity and inclusion and understanding of all members of our community."
The hope is that these fragments of history serve as a connection between the past and present.
"It happened not long ago, not far away in the heart of Europe," Ferreiro said. "It happened in the most technologically and culturally advanced society of its time. So what this means is, if it could happen then, unfortunately, the ingredients that made Auschwitz possible are still with us. The world is still torn by genocides and violence, hatred and indifference to injustice, so while those ingredients are still there, this is a very important story for us."
Exhibit directors said they hope visitors will consider what the exhibit means today and how to create a future where something like the Holocaust is no longer possible.
Union Station already has sold 40,000 pre-sale tickets.
For more information about the exhibit, or to purchase tickets, visit the Union Station website.