Photos on page 16 and 17 of the April 18, 1938, issue of LIFE Magazine compare dictators such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini to democratic President Roosevelt. LIFE says, “The qualifications which make a successful dictator are simply those which make a successful mass leader” (17). To some extent this may be true. However, some may disagree. Do you agree or disagree? LIFE continues, “The essential difference between a dictatorship and a democracy is not in the leader, but in those led” (17). LIFE Magazine was calling for readers to consider their personal role in a democracy, yet at the time, the events of World War II and the Holocaust hadn’t yet unfolded. What do we know now that the events of the Holocaust and World War II are history? What parallels can you draw between the American citizen’s role during the Holocaust and your role as a democratic citizen in modern times?
The March 28, 1938, issue of LIFE Magazine describes former President Herbert Hoover’s visit to Europe. Hoover calmly commented regarding his visit, “I do not believe widespread war is at all probable in the near future” (19).
LIFE also shared information and photos of productive Jews who were victims of the Holocaust in this issue. Jews were beaten, humiliated, killed, and sent to jail just because of their heritage. Propaganda urged people to believe “Jews ruined the Germans” (23) and depicted Jews as inferior. Hitler despised various behaviors that defined “others” such as homosexuality and debauchery as well and stifled these aspects of culture in the region. LIFE Magazine offers glimpses and a perspective of Hitler’s regime as wrong. However, the American public remain distant viewers. The U.S. would not become involved in the war until 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After viewing this issue and reading the description, what current events in America do you think mirror what happened early in the Holocaust? What current events are Americans watching from a distance? Should we remain uninvolved?
Please join the conversation and leave a reply below.
The Holocaust Center will be hosting an online digital exhibit of the Lester Morris Collection this fall. The collection is comprised of magazine and newspaper articles published primarily in the United States immediately before, during, and shortly after the Holocaust (1933-1945). These articles are significant because we can learn about the thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs of people of the past. This exhibit is an opportunity to view actual Holocaust and World War II communication artifacts aimed at the American audience untouched by the attitudes and perceptions of historians and people of the present. Articles and photos from Life, The New York Times, National Geographic, Time, Harper’s, and various other publications are represented in the collection. The center invites you to join in a short tour and community dialogue about the lessons of the Holocaust through this exhibit presented digitally via social media. Dialogue will be prompted with weekly thought-provoking questions centered on an artifact from the collection.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht this November, we point to the world’s lack of response to the destruction, assaults and deaths of that night. What might have happened if the aggression against Jewish home, shops and communities had been met with a more vigorous response from other nations? Might Hitler have been thwarted if the destruction of his nation’s Jews been challenged strongly and swiftly?
After the Holocaust we made a promise of Never Again, a promise that we have too often failed to keep. In Rwanda, in Darfur, in the Congo, and in other nations, ethic and religious communities have been under deadly assault. This week we are again witnessing the unacceptable loss of lives in Syria.
In response to the situation in Syria, the Executive Committee of the Board has released this statement: The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida strongly deplores and condemns the use of chemical weapons against any group involved in the hostilities in Syria, including but not limited to the Syrian government.
The Center cannot advocate any political position. Like other individuals and organizations, it lacks concrete, verifiable information about who ultimately bears responsibility for ordering the use of chemical weapons. Like others, we are not suggesting any particular action by any nation, including our own.
We simply believe that a fundamental part of our mission is to stand up on behalf of those who have no power to advocate for themselves, and to ask leaders around the world to wage peace in every way they can.
The Holocaust Center recently honored survivor Helen Greenspun at its annual Dinner of Tribute. She was presented with a crystal rose — a reminder of the extraordinary courage of young German students in protesting against Nazi cruelty — as part of the event.
The Holocaust Center’s Resource Teacher, Mitchell Bloomer, spoke about his relationship with Helen and the impact she has had on the community. We are sharing his remarks here:
Good evening! My name is Mitchell Bloomer. For the past 18 years, I’ve been the teacher at the Holocaust Center. I represent the Center and the Orange County Public School system. For all of those 18 years (plus a few more) I have been privileged to know Helen Greenspun – as a Holocaust survivor, but also as my friend. For more than 30 years, Helen has been telling her story in our Center and in schools across Central Florida and beyond. Tens of thousands of students know about and remember the Holocaust because they heard about it from her. Many of those students from the early years are now parents with children of their own and some of those have learned from Helen as well.
But Helen’s legacy goes far beyond spreading knowledge. Young people who have heard Helen’s testimony don’t just know about the Holocaust … they also care. They care because they’ve done more than just meet a Holocaust survivor; they’ve also met a wonderful, caring and giving person. I have been with Helen for many of her presentations and I wish that I could share with you the instant bond of affection that many of these kids make with her. You’d have to see it for yourself. I think that they must understand how difficult it is for a survivor to re-enter the memory of this terrible past and realize what a sacrifice Helen makes every time she speaks. In spite of the difficulty, she is always warm and open with the students, willing to answer their questions and even to pose with them for photographs afterward.
I remember one time that we went together to Timber Creek High School to participate in a Holocaust commemoration event. The staff there had planned a full program. The main part was to have Helen speak to about 800 students in their performing arts auditorium. Since this was to be such a large event, it required detailed planning and precise timing. When we arrived, we were greeted by a team of administrators, teachers and about a dozen student assistants who were on hand to run errands and take care of any last-minute needs. There were two chairs on the stage… one for me and one for Helen. As Helen took her place, I went over to the teachers to make sure that everything was ready to go. I could only have been gone for a minute or two, but let me tell you what I saw when I turned back around… All of the student assistants, the ones who were supposed to be running errands, had taken seats on the floor in a semi-circle around Helen and were deep in conversation with her. What could I say?… They had made the right choice.
Helen’s legacy goes beyond the impact that she has had in our schools. Everyone who knows her has been touched by her life. For me, I owe Helen an enormous debt of gratitude. I’ve been studying the Holocaust since the late 1980’s. I’ve had the chance to learn from some of the greatest experts in the field and in some of the actual places where these events occurred, but Helen has helped me to keep it all in perspective. It’s our friendship that reminds me that the Holocaust is not so much about the specific crimes that were committed as it is about the people to whom these things were done.
I remember one day very clearly… I had stopped by to visit Helen at home and, of course, she invited me in. We got to talking and, after awhile, I realized that neither of us had said one word about the Holocaust. We talked about our families and our mutual friends. We discussed events that were current in the news. We even talked about the books we were reading and the programs we watch on TV. In other words, I was, in that situation, exactly as I am with my all of my other friends. …And, isn’t this the essential truth about the victims of the Holocaust, both those who perished and those who survived – that they were and are people just like everyone else – people who embrace life – with family and community, with religion and culture, with hopes and dreams and accomplishments – and they have given us a legacy worthy of remembrance.
We thank you Helen, for your willingness to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves – to be their voice. We also thank you that through your kindness you have shown us, not only how lucky we are to know you, but also how much we have missed by not having known others; how much we would have liked to have known your sister Rachel and your baby brother Fishel – they would have grown up to be wonderful people. We know this because we know you – and their memory lives on in this world because of you. Maybe we wouldn’t have been able to meet your parents Kalman and Sarah, but we know something of them because their legacy lives on in you – and in your children – and your grandchildren.
We thank you for sharing the richness of your life with us and we are delighted to honor you this evening!
By James Coffin
Years ago my work took me occasionally to various South Pacific islands where Pidgin English is the lingua franca. Because Pidgin is missing such possessive pronouns as “my,” “your” and “our,” it has a simple-but-effective linguistic structure to show “ownership.”
To designate who faces a problem, for example, the sentence structure would be: “Problem belong me.” Or “problem belong John.” I love the cadence. But speaking of problems, let me mention one.
When Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933, the onlooking world soon saw disquieting signs that hinted at state-sponsored hatred toward certain groups, especially the Jews. Where was it all heading?
When on November 9-10, 1938, mobs swarmed the streets, destroying some 7,500 Jewish places of business, vandalizing and/or torching 267 synagogues and killing 91 Jews, there was no longer any ambiguity concerning the intentions of the Nazi regime.
But–and here’s what’s staggering–the atrocities of Nazi Germany weren’t committed by society’s riffraff. They were committed by educated, genteel, affluent, church-going, family-loving people who look just like you and I do. And that’s what should jolt us.
Some six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust that ensued, not including the Gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped and others the state wished to be rid of. Nor does it include the tens of millions killed as a result of World War II itself.
Jews believe we need to remember how this happened–because, as George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So every year the Holocaust Center (851 N. Maitland Ave., Maitland, FL 32751) hosts a Kristallnacht Remembrance. This year it will be held at 4:00 pm on Sunday, November 4. It’s open to everyone, and no admission is charged.
I’m not Jewish. Nor, to my knowledge, were any of my ancestors. Nor is my wife. And the overwhelming majority of Central Floridians aren’t Jewish, either. So it would be easy for most of us to simply say, “Problem belong them.” But we’d be wrong. The reality is: “This problem belong everybody.”
So let’s take decisive steps to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Jew and non-Jew alike need to be reminded of what can happen when run-of-the-mill humans succumb to propaganda and a message of hate. I repeat: “This problem belong everybody.”
James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.