It is now 80 years since the top Nazi hierarchs, at their Wannsee Conference north of Berlin, decided to implement the so-called Final Solution, the radical and total extermination of the Jews, whom they blamed for all the ills suffered by Germany. It is also 77 years since the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, the largest Nazi extermination camp. More than a million Jews and other minorities of Europe were murdered in its gas chambers between 1941 and 1945. A tragedy that has not yet resolved all the questions, such as why the Allies did not stop the atrocities despite having precise information about the systematic slaughter of the Jews almost as early as 1942. Would the Shoah have been stopped if the countless aerial photographs and the abundant testimonies of the few prisoners who managed to escape had been believed?
Many reflections arise for the viewer who visits the exhibition "Seeing Auschwitz", installed at the Centro Sefarad-Israel in Madrid, a project conceived and developed by the Spanish company Musealia in collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, and in partnership with the UN and UNESCO.
More than one hundred images of victims and perpetrators, as well as snapshots of the systematic process of extermination and scenes of everyday life in Auschwitz, mostly immortalised by the SS perpetrators themselves, together with audiovisual testimonies of survivors, make up the exhibition.
All of this provides unequivocal evidence of the crimes committed at Auschwitz, and at the same time presents a great challenge to the viewer. "We are certainly looking at a piece of reality from the Nazi perspective," says the exhibition's chief curator, Paul Salmons, one of the world's leading experts on the Holocaust.
For Luis Ferreiro, director of Musealia, "memory, both individual and collective, is formed to a large extent through images. In the case of Auschwitz this is especially problematic, given its provenance. This is what we want to explore in this exhibition, which also allows us to extend our gaze to the present, to question ourselves as a society whether we have really been able to see Auschwitz after everything that happened from 1945 onwards".
"It is an opportunity to remember all the victims of the Holocaust and to examine in depth all the issues raised by that enormous tragedy", in the words of Miguel de Lucas, the director general of Centro Sefarad-Israel.
This is the second exhibition on this subject created and presented in the Spanish capital by Musealia. The previous one, "Auschwitz. Not so long ago. Not far away", in 2018, broke all attendance records at the Canal de Isabel II, exceeding 600,000 visitors. The current exhibition was commissioned to Musealia by the United Nations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. It was inaugurated at its own headquarters in New York in 2020, and in Paris, home of UNESCO.
As for the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, located in the Polish town of Oswiecim, it is the institution that preserves the area and the remains of the former extermination camp. It regularly registers some two million visitors a year.