Museum unveils new Shoah exhibition

The Star of David-shaped atrium in the Sydney Jewish Museum’s new permanent exhibition on the Holocaust.

THE first guided school and visitor tours of Sydney Jewish Museum’s (SJM) new world-class permanent Holocaust exhibition were held last week, ahead of its much-anticipated official opening ceremony on Sunday, March 19.

The AJN was given a sneak peek at the impressive three-level exhibition – which was five years in the making – by co-curator Roslyn Sugarman on Monday.

It started with the thought process behind the exhibition’s main architectural feature – the Star of David-shaped central atrium.

“For me, this is one of the most beautiful aspects of the design, where the whole concept of zachor – of eternal memory – really resonates,” Sugarman said.

“You can see there are first names engraved onto the walls.

“These represent Holocaust survivors who are, or have been, in some way involved with the museum, their murdered relatives, and also children and grandchildren who were named in honour of them.

“It’s a powerful art installation that physically links all parts of the exhibition, so its message can follow visitors as they explore.”

On display are a potent mix of more than 300 rare artefacts from the museum’s vast collection, illuminated information panels, maps, interactive touchscreens, film footage and hundreds of photographs.

Each visitor can download an app on their smartphone, or borrow a special device and earphones at the service desk, that brings its theme, “Where History Has a Voice”, truly alive.

“When visitors see photos [framed by circles] of Holocaust survivors on the displays, often next to artefacts associated with them, they can use the app to listen to audio recordings of them,” Sugarman said.

“They can then listen to audio clips of other featured participants, including perpetrators, bystanders, resisters and collaborators, as well as hear insights from human rights experts.”

Curators Roslyn Sugarman (left) and Shannon Biederman using the museum’s new app on their smartphones. Photo: Shane Desiatnik

The exhibition is divided into sections including prewar Jewish life in Europe, the rise of -anti-Semitism, ghetto life, resistance, concentration camps, non-Jewish victims, liberation, war crimes trials, Children’s Memorial and Sanctum of Remembrance.

“As much as possible, we’ve tried to integrate and link Australian aspects of the Holocaust throughout each section, and also explore and advance the universal signature – the lessons of the Holocaust – that reverberate today,” Sugarman said.

Some of the smallest artefacts on display hold the most power, from a colourful cloth sewn upon liberation by Holocaust survivor Elise Schwartz, with each stitch representing a prayer for her missing relatives, to a last letter from Cornelia Swaab to her son Simon in the Netherlands.

Schwartz had thrown her letter off a deportation train in November 1942. Remarkably, it was found and posted by an unknown person.

When the displays are viewed accompanied by survivors’ voices – from a volunteer guide or via an audio clip on the app – it makes for an unforgettable visitor experience.

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