Return from Auschwitz: MIR Travelers and Holocaust Artifacts

Return from Auschwitz: MIR Travelers and Holocaust Artifacts

A group of MIR travelers from Seattle’s was on hand in Poland to witness the packing and shipping of a selection of heartbreaking artifacts from Auschwitz. Later, they met again in Seattle, coming from all over to help unpack the crates.

Everyday Objects
  • Three leather shoes, individually wrapped – a child’s, a woman’s, and a man’s
  • A twisted pair of eyeglasses, without the lenses
  • A child’s chipped enameled tin cup, decorated with a little girl pushing a doll carriage
  • An empty canister that once held poison gas
  • A can of shoe polish paste
  • A plastic comb, missing some teeth
  • A battered wooden suitcase with metal corner guards, carefully selected from a collection of hundreds of thousands of suitcases
A battered wooden suitcase with metal corner guards, left behind by a victim of Auschwitz <br> Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

One of hundreds of thousands of suitcases left behind by victims, labeled and preserved  at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum
Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

These artifacts are all that’s left to show of the people who once owned them; people who were forced to leave them at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the Nazi’s most lethal concentration and extermination camps, located near Krakow, Poland.

Barbed wire still guards the Auschwitz camps <br> Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

Barbed wire still guards the Auschwitz camp 
Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

Seattle-Auschwitz ConnectionThe bedraggled tokens, on loan from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, have arrived in Seattle to take their places among the exhibits at Seattle’s new , which opened in October 2015. The museum is the first of its kind in Washington State.

They were carefully packed for shipping under the eyes of the Director of Education at Seattle’s , an organization that since 1989 has been providing speakers and materials to classrooms to inspire young people to study the Holocaust.


Each year, the Center sponsors a study tour to Jewish heritage sites; this year, MIR organized and helped operate a program that included sites in Poland and Israel.

Led by MIR’s Joanna Millick, the travelers explored the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is preserved as it was at the end of the war to testify to the lives of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazi regime.

Dozens of suitcases belonging to Holocaust victims, all carefully preserved at Auschwitz <br> Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

Tour participants viewed dozens of suitcases belonging to Holocaust victims, all carefully preserved at Auschwitz
Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

Book of NamesOne of the most moving moments of the tour was when the travelers paged through the museum’s giant Book of Names, looking for the names of their relatives. Designed by Israel’s Yad Vashem Institute, the Book of Names is a stark installation of some 8,100 three-foot-tall pages, each bearing the names of 500 people killed during the Holocaust. 


“Museum of Life”The group also looked for, and found, contemporary traces of Jewish life, and the small but growing resurgence of Judaism in Europe. They paid a visit to Warsaw’s encouraging POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which celebrates a thousand years of the vital, vibrant Jewish culture in Poland, not only the terrible years of the 20th century.

“[This] is not a museum of the holocaust, it is a museum of life,” said Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at the museum’s opening in 2013. “It is the place which commemorates everything that is gone and will never return ­– and it reveals hope for a different future. And although Jews were torn away from Poland, it is difficult, or even impossible, to tear Poland away from Jews.”

Warsaw's POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews <br> Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

Warsaw’s POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

Closer to HomeImpossible to tear Poland away from the hundreds of Jews each year who travel to Poland and the surrounding countries, looking for their roots, their families’ shtetls, their ancestor’s graves. And impossible to tear Poland away from Seattle, as witnessed by the crate of artifacts arriving from Auschwitz.

  • Three leather shoes, individually wrapped – a child’s, a woman’s, and a man’s
  • A twisted pair of eyeglasses, without the lenses
  • A child’s chipped enameled tin cup, decorated with a little girl pushing a doll carriage
  • An empty canister that once held poison gas
  • A can of shoe polish paste
  • A plastic comb missing some teeth
  • A battered wooden suitcase with metal corner guards, carefully selected from a collection of hundreds of thousands of suitcases

These everyday objects will experience a kind of afterlife in Seattle, where the  will display them in its halls. The museum teaches about intolerance, and will also include information on the shameful West Coast internment of more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry during WWII, as well as other, more recent civil rights abuses.

The artifacts from Auschwitz will serve both as reminders of the individuals who were among the murdered six million, and as admonitions to be vigilant against the possibility of it ever happening again – to anyone, anywhere.

Ruins of the Auschwitz barracks <br> Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

Ruins of the Auschwitz barracks
Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

The Auschwitz museum has loaned artifacts to only three U.S. museums – the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, and now the new Seattle museum.

Note: In an earlier post, I reported that five artifacts were being transported by the study tour participants. As it turned out, 14 artifacts were respectfully packed and shipped, arriving in July 2015.

Railroad tracks leading to the Auschwitz camp <br> Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

This is where prisoners were sorted as they entered Birkenau. You can see the crematoria just in front of the trees at the top right.
Photo Credit: Joanna Millick

Search for your roots with MIRWith our regional knowledge and on-the-ground representation, we are experts at designing independent trips for people searching for their roots, or their relatives, in Central and East Europe.

To find out more about our custom & private travel expertiseconnect with a Private Journey Specialist to get started planning your own heritage trip

Top photo: Portraits of those lost at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo credit: Joanna Millick

PUBLISHED: December 9, 2015

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