By Kevin Collison
Union Station’s ongoing Auschwitz exhibition has shattered attendance records and demand remains so strong it’s receiving the ultimate backward compliment in the event world, people are scalping tickets.
The “Auschwitz, Not Long Ago, Not Far Away” exhibit has drawn more than 330,000 visitors since it’s opening last June, enough to fill Arrowhead Stadium more than four times. They’ve come from all 50 states and six countries.
“What’s challenging is we have a demand from people who really want to see the exhibition,” said George Guastello, Union Station president and CEO.
“This exhibition touches your soul and transforms you to do something and say something and make a difference. It was here at the right time for all of us.
“It really speaks to people and man’s inhumanity to man.”
Auschwitz was the most notorious Nazi death camp during World War II. An estimated 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were murdered there between 1942 and the camp’s liberation by Soviet forces in 1945.
The exhibition organized by Musealia, a Spanish firm, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland has had its Kansas City stay extended from January to March 20 and recently implemented expanded hours to meet the demand.
When the closing date extension was announced in November, Union Station officials were concerned whether there’d be enough interest for the 55,000 additional tickets. Weekends immediately sold out however, and weekday tickets are going quickly.
That’s why Union Station has expanded the weekend hours when people can see the headphone-guided exhibit, which has timed admissions and generally takes about two hours to complete.
Previously, the last Friday and Saturday admission time was 4 p.m, now 5, 6 and 7 p.m. slots have been added. Sunday has an additional 5 p.m. slot. Together, the expanded weekend hours have added 5,500 available tickets and they’re also going fast.
The unprecedented demand for Auschwitz–it’s sunk the previous record of 280,000 set by “Titanic” in 2001–also has led to some black market activity. This week, Union Station posted a warning on its Facebook page.
“We have seen an increasing number of posts and comments from individuals offering tickets for resale,” according to the post.
“We have also been contacted by guests who have responded to Facebook ‘ticket for sale’ comments and have been defrauded of money with no tickets received in return. We would urge caution in purchasing any tickets from any third-party or private individual.”
Guastello recommended people only purchase tickets through Union Station.
One of the factors contributing to the national draw is Kansas City is one of only two North American cities to host Auschwitz, the other being New York City where it debuted.
After it leaves here, the exhibition will travel to Malmo, Sweden, a city near Copenhagen.
Guastello said in addition to drawing a record attendance, people attending the exhibition have given it excellent reviews. It has scored 98 percent on an industry metric called the net promotion score.
Among the 700 artifacts are the camp commandant’s desk, an operating table used for inmate experiments and suitcases discarded by their owners after leaving the cattle cars, most to be immediately killed in the gas chambers, the others to work as slave labor.
While Guastello didn’t go into specifics, he said the exhibition’s revenues have made it the most financially successful in Union Station’s 20-year history since its revival.
“It’s providing us with excess revenues above our expectations,” he said.
It’s gone so well that Union Station has contributed $50,000 from the proceeds to Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.
Another $25,000 has been donated to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation. That money helps sponsor visits by local teachers to Auschwitz so they can share with students what they learned there.
Guastello said the success of the Auschwitz exhibit also has propelled Union Station’s reputation in the museum world.
“It has put Union Station and Kansas City into a new, international light,” he said.
“The risk has paid off and it’s giving us a window on major exhibitions we’d never would have been in the running for.”
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