An exhibit opening Tuesday at Gonzaga University will explore what Americans of the 1930s and 1940s knew about Nazism and Jewish persecution throughout history — and how those insights are relevant today.
Gonzaga University’s Foley Center Library will open “Americans and the Holocaust,” a traveling exhibit on Tuesday, available in partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Library Association. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
The exhibit showcases factors of the time – such as the Great Depression, xenophobia and racism – that affected how the government, media and general public reacted to Nazism. Museum officials say “Americans and the Holocaust” challenges the assumption that Americans knew little and did nothing about the Holocaust when millions of Jews were persecuted and killed.
Located in Cowles’ Rare Book Room, “Americans and the Holocaust” will feature exhibits assembled from primary source information from the period around questions such as “Did Americans help Jewish refugees?” and “How did Americans react to the Holocaust?” Screens are complemented by touchpads with videos, newspaper clippings, and timelines.
The Foley Center Library is one of 50 libraries nationwide, and the only one in Washington State, to host the traveling exhibit. Paul Bracke, dean of the Foley Center Library, said the exhibit is based on the larger one at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, which opened in April 2018.
“The Museum’s Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies had previously worked with the Gonzaga Center for the Study of Hate, and we’re thrilled to expand that collaboration by bringing this traveling exhibit to campus,” Rebecca Erbelding, historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, said in a statement.
While Gonzaga was originally selected from more than 250 applicants to host the exhibit starting in March 2020, the event was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bracke said. He said Gonzaga’s candidacy was supplemented with contributions from the university’s Center for the Study of Hatred and other community partners.
In determining exhibit hosts, Erbelding said the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum considered the “creativity and strength” of each library’s proposed program plans, levels of community support and the library’s reasons for want to arrange the visit.
Many libraries have written about how the exhibit could provide important discourse in light of anti-Semitic actions within their communities or a general lack of knowledge about the Holocaust, Erbelding said.
“We hope that people of all ages and backgrounds will come to learn what Americans knew during the Holocaust, how they reacted, and reflect on what it teaches us about our own roles and responsibilities in today’s society.” today,” Erbelding said.
Gonzaga’s “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit will also include a collection of archival materials focused on hate in the Northwest. Bracke said the exhibit’s broad themes align with the university’s mission to “promote the dignity of human persons.”
“The Holocaust is obviously an event contrary to that, and so Gonzaga has a history of involvement in efforts to combat hatred and bigotry and to promote the dignity of human persons,” he said. “We also felt it was particularly important, given that there is a history of white nationalism and bigotry and such in this area, that this be made available to the people of this area.”