On April 23, 2018, as it marked its 25th anniversary, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened a new special exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust, which examines the motives, pressures, and fears that shaped Americans’ responses to Nazism, war, and the persecution and murder of Jews in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. The creation of this exhibition took five years and was led by the curator, Daniel Greene, a historian who earned his PhD from the University of Chicago and teaches at Northwestern University. Daniel has a strong Solel connection, having had his bar mitzvah and confirmation at Solel, is the son of Alan and Carol Greene, and was Rabbi Moffic’s counselor at Camp Timberlane.

Based on extensive new research, this comprehensive exhibition explores the many factors — including the Great Depression, isolationism, xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism — that influenced decisions by the US government, the news media, Hollywood, organizations, and individuals as they responded to Nazism. Americans and the Holocaust dispels myths about this history, such as the misperception that Americans lacked access to information about the persecution of Jews as it was happening. It examines why their rescue never became a priority for the US government even as the country made great sacrifices to defeat Nazism.

Among the many highlights of the exhibition is an interactive map showing newspaper reports about Nazism and the plight of Europe’s Jews in all 48 states during the 1930s. Visitors also can watch newsreels from the period which included coverage of Nazism’s dangers and played every week in movie theatres. Clips from movies such as Casablanca reveal that the plight of refugees was included in Hollywood films without any overt mention that those refugees were Jews. The exhibition presents public opinion polling from the era and includes new research and artifacts illustrating the many obstacles European Jews faced when they tried to enter the United States. On an interactive table at the center of the gallery, visitors can follow the stories and discover the fates of nine European Jews and the Americans who tried to help them escape Europe. The exhibition also features stories of individual Americans, many of whom took actions that went against the grain at the time, including some who dared to rescue Jews from Europe. The founding charter of the Museum mandates a special emphasis on Americans’ response to the Holocaust and this exhibition goes into greater detail than has previously been presented.

Americans and the Holocaust will be featured at the Museum until October 2021. Parts of the exhibition can be viewed on the Museum’s website, ushmm.org/americans. Greene will accompany two Chicago trips to the museum, on June 24-25 and September 12-13. For more information on those trips, contact the museum’s Midwest Office at
(847) 433-8099.

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