Auschwitz model tells the Holocaust story

Robert Houk • Oct 28, 2018 at 4:45 AM

Peter Dorn was looking for something to occupy has mind and time. The Air Force veteran and self-described vagabond decided to put his extensive research of the Holocaust to use by building a 1/16th scale model of one of the most terrible places ever envisioned by humankind — Auschwitz.

After spending nearly six months building a model of the Nazi concentration camp in his Johnson City home using discarded cardboard, he posted the following on his Facebook page Aug. 19:

“Just finished the last panel of 9. This model tells of a terrible and scary time in human history. Many people don’t want to think, talk or even hear of the past horrors that happened. I, for one of many, know what the victims and survivors would want. To spread the story of this genocide loud and wide for this tragedy is still happening all across this earth of ours.”

Dorn, who grew up in what he calls “a quaint village” near the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, said he has studied the Holocaust since his high school history classes. The more he read about the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the concentration camps, the more he felt obligated to make some sort of a statement.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to say something about it, but I’m not very good with words,” said Dorn, who has used his hands as a craftsman and gardener in various jobs over the years. “I decided on building this model. I wasn’t expecting it to turn out this way.”

His depiction of Auschwitz I, which was the template for other death camps operated by the Nazis during World War II, was based on aerial photos and eyewitness accounts.

Dorn repurposed old cardboard, mainly the tops of pizza boxes, to build his model. The model was built in sections made up of nine 20-inch by 30-inch panels. It includes the housing area for prisoners, a library and even a swimming pool used by SS officers on the grounds.

There are also models of buildings that housed the gas chambers and crematorium. Dorn said Auschwitz I could hold as many as 1,000 prisoners at a time, with more than “70,000 murdered by the Nazis” between 1940 and 1942 in what German officials called a “work camp.”

“I get choked up just talking about it after reading the eyewitness accounts,” Dorn said.

There were times that Dorn said he felt like quitting the project. He said it was often too emotionally grueling to think about. It was at these times that a friend, Johnny Humphreys, would encourage him to continue.

“I was overwhelmed by what he was doing,” Humphreys, an outreach volunteer with First Methodist Church in Johnson City, said last month. “This is one of the best ways to memorialize the Holocaust.”

Now that the model is finished, Dorn hopes to donate it to a school, museum or group that will use it to help tell the story of the terrible things that happened at Auschwitz.

Danielle Kahane-Kaminsky, the executive director of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, said it is important that the story of the Holocaust is remembered by future generations. She said writer and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, urged the world to “never forget” the atrocities of the Holocaust so that they happen “never again.”

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