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National Holocaust History Exhibit Coming To Delray Beach Public Library

A person looks down at a display table, with books in the foreground, at the Delray Beach Public Library
Caitie Switalski Munoz
To complement the exhibit on Americans and the Holocaust, the Delray beach Public Library has its collection of books about that time in history on display.

"Americans and the Holocaust" will be on display in Delray Beach, as part of a traveling exhibition from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, starting Oct. 6 through November 17. The library is also putting on free community events, as long as you wear your mask.

The exhibit looks at local and national newspapers across America during the rise of Nazism and the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust.

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It asks, what did Americans know — and when?

"One of the things that we always say is you can't expect people to react to something if they don't have information about it. How were people getting their information? What was that, and what did that information look like?" said Rebecca Erbelding, a historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. "What we found was that there were a whole lot of articles, especially early in 1933, Americans had actually quite a lot of information in their local newspapers, their community newspapers, their school newspapers about the rise of Nazism and about the beginning of the persecution of Jews. That was something that scholars had not really known."

Erbelding described one of her favorite stories in the exhibit is about an Iowa woman’s attempt to help a Jewish teacher escape Austria as the Nazis took over. She put up her family's farm as collateral. Ultimately, she was unsuccessful.

"But the idea that she in 1941,1942 knows that this is happening — and is willing to take this extraordinary effort to help someone across the sea — I think that something that is really inspiring to me," Erbelding said. "And I hope that story is inspiring to a lot of other people as well." 

There were also Americans at the time who supported Nazism. That’s the subject of a presentation by a local middle school teacher, Eliot Kopp, who got his master's in history from Florida Atlantic University.

"He will actually be presenting his work and his research about the Nazi movement in America in the 1930s," said Isabella Rowan explained, the program coordinator at the Delray Beach Public Library. "So I'm thinking, 'Oh this is going to be interesting because this is an aspect of history that no one really knows,' I know I didn't. So let's find out about this. What are these secrets that America holds?" 

"People have to decide are you going to be a bystander or are you going to get involved? And what does that look like? And how do you make these choices?"
Isabella Rowan, Program Coordinator Delray Beach Public Library

For the exhibit to come to Delray Beach from the national museum and the American Library Association, Rowan had to create four community events to accompany it. Instead she planned 20 events that include film and documentary screenings for different age groups, and an evening with a local Holocaust survivor, Norman Frajman.

One event, on Nov. 3, partners with Atlantic High School's reading club and reading classes to present a 1940s themed lunch and discussion about "Summer of My German Soldier," a book by Bette Green.

While the exhibit at the Delray Beach Public Library examines the American perspective during the Holocaust, the library also partnered with the nearby Delray Beach Historical Society for a more local perspective. The historical society will have a complimentary exhibit up beginning Oct. 12 about what was going on in the Delray Beach area at the time of the Holocaust, including artifacts like ration books, war uniforms and air raid journals.

Rowan said she believes in the educational mission of public libraries and their role in getting people to challenge the way they think.

She said lessons from this exhibit can apply to antisemitic events in today's world — or even social justice issues and racism.

"People have to decide are you going to be a bystander or are you going to get involved?"said Rowan. "And what does that look like? And how do you make these choices?"

You can find the full program of events here.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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