The Holocaust — Amateur historian discovers trove of WWII news reports
BRATTLEBORO >> Did you miss the Daily Reformer issue featuring Adolf Hitler?
You probably did, because it was published in 1933. It's one of seventeen articles and images related to the Second World War and the Holocaust I recently unearthed in the Brooks Memorial Library microfilm room as one of many volunteers working across the nation for "History Unfolded," a project of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The program is designed to uncover local news articles about the Holocaust during the period of 1933 through 1945.
To put it in the museum's words: "What did American newspapers report about the Holocaust during World War II? Citizen historians participating in 'History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust.' will help the US Holocaust Memorial Museum answer this question."
As of this writing, more than 2,000 articles have been submitted to newspapers.ushmm.org. But when I first contacted the project's coordinator, I discovered two significant gaps: no articles had been uploaded yet from either Vermont or Hawaii.
Vermont is a lot easier to reach than Hawaii, and a bit of research revealed that Brooks had a complete set of the Reformer on microfilm, plus the added luxury of installed software to capture images digitally. After practicing my microfilm skills at the Worcester, Mass., Public Library, I was able to capture images from seven of the museum's designated 20 key events: The 1933 boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany; the 1935 Nuremberg laws which stripped German Jews of their citizenship; the decision by the Amateur Athletic Union to allow American athletes to compete in the famous 1936 Olympiad in Berlin, the "Nazi Olympics"; the German annexation of Austria; the 1938 "Kristallnacht," a night of rioting in which dozens of synagogues were destroyed across Germany; FDR's historic signing of the 1940 bill authorizing the military draft; and FDR's fourth inaugural address in January, 1945, a few months before the Allied victory.
Other images too good to pass up have been sent to the museum for review and possible inclusion in a future exhibit — two marvelous full-page ads for War Loans, a scary 1940 article predicting that Britain would be invaded within 48 hours, and an odd 1938 article describing the decree that the name Jehovah and names of all Old Testament prophets were to be erased from all German Protestant Church documents immediately.
Missing were articles on several of the events the museum is seeking coverage on: The opening of Dachau in 1933; the Senate's failure to pass the Child Refugee Bill in 1939; German government forces Jews to wear yellow stars in 1941; FDR authorizing detention of Japanese Americans in 1942; The November 1942 news release about Nazi plans to kill all Jews; the April 1943 Warsaw Ghetto revolt; the 1944 deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz; and the November 1944 first public reports on Auschwitz.
Most of these events were also not covered in Worcester, Mass., newspapers of the time. However, that doesn't mean that some enterprising person might not find articles on these items in other Vermont papers. The team at the Holocaust Museum is actively recruiting volunteers, including high school history classes, to participate in this exciting project and add to its permanent collection, to document exactly how our newspapers covered these critical events.
Submissions will be used for two purposes — to inform a planned 2018 exhibition on "Americans and the Holocaust," and to enhance ongoing scholarly research about the American press and the Holocaust. The museum is a leading destination for Holocaust researchers from around the world.
Anyone who knows how to move files around on a home computer can easily contribute to this project. I found that the most difficult part of the whole enterprise was figuring out how to load the microfilm reels into the machine. It took only two-and-a-half hours to capture 19 images, save them to my drive, and email them to myself at home.
Two members of the Brooks Memorial Library staff, Maria Bruce and Leslie Markey, stepped in at key moments to save the day when tech issues threatened to halt progress. Seventeen of those Reformer articles are now a part of the museum's permanent record.
Since my visit to Brattleboro this past spring, I have played a key role in finding a Hawaii-based researcher to track down press coverage in that far-off state. To read the resulting article, visit hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/local-news/unfolding-holocaust-project-collects-old-news-articles-document-mass-killing-jews.
Judith Haran is a psychiatrist from central Massachusetts, as well as a writer of Holocaust and World War II related fiction. She lives with her husband and three cats in a 240-year-old farmhouse near Worcester. Since April she has contributed more than 100 articles to the "History Unfolded" project, 19 of which are from the Reformer. Haran can be contacted at email@example.com.
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