BJC Yom Hashoah Event Highlights Holocaust Refugee Efforts

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On May 5, the Baltimore Jewish Council is holding its annual Yom Hashoah event from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave. in Pikesville.

The event, “U.S. Efforts to Save Jews During the Holocaust,” also marks the 75th anniversary of the War Refugee Board, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January of 1944. The board helped get millions of dollars in funds overseas to aid relief and refugee efforts and encouraged neutral countries to offer safe haven, among other efforts.


Gretchen Skidmore, director of education initiatives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will be giving the keynote address at the event.

A year ago this month, the USHMM opened the exhibition, “Americans and the Holocaust,” which address how much the American government and the American people knew about the efforts by Nazis to eliminate the Jews of Europe.

“Our keynote speaker, Gretchen Skidmore, worked on that exhibit. So, it all worked – it went together,” said Jeannette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust Programs for the BJC, about the synchronicity of the exhibit with the Yom Hashoah event.

Skidmore said she was “very struck” by the research generated through the museum’s citizen history project, titled ‘History Unfolded.’

“[That research] revealed that information about the threat of Nazism — including the persecution and murder of Europe’s Jews — was available throughout the country in large and small papers throughout this period (1933-45),” Skidmore said. “Our database now includes approximately 20,000 articles that have been uploaded by students and citizen historians across the country, and it continues to grow. Knowing that this information was available to the public, we then ask why rescuing Jews didn’t become a priority, except for a few who went against the grain. For the U.S. government during the 1930s and ’40s, the priorities were economic recovery and then winning the war, which required great sacrifices.”

Although lacking exact numbers, Skidmore said estimates are that more than 100,000 people were aided by the work of the War Refugee Board.

BJC executive director Howard Libit described the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit as “a powerful display of where America was, how much Americans knew.”

“It was a real eye-opener. I’d been living under the perception that Americans didn’t have a great sense of what was going on in Germany from the mass media.” Libit said. “It blew me away how much Americans knew and how little our country did. And I think there are a lot of parallels to what’s happening today with other places where we need to intervene around the world.”

In creating the exhibit, Parmigiani said the USHMM contacted numerous cities and organizations to research their archives to see what, and if, information was being reported about Germany.

“They got quite a bit of information about how it was reported, but people didn’t pay attention,” Parmigiani said. “Maybe it was on the front page one day and then buried someplace else.”

At the time, Libit said, in a lot of areas of the country, there was a “real distaste for bringing in more immigrants.”

“There was a real reluctance and concern about immigrants, in those years, from Eastern Europe and Germany. Again, you see the parallels today with some people in our country not wanting to accept immigrants who are fleeing crisis in their homeland,” he added. “It was the popular pressure too. Roosevelt’s administration was facing a lot of political pressure, and the exhibit goes through a lot of that and where public opinion was. And not just the president making that decision, but members of Congress who represented different areas of the county.”

The BJC event will provide American Sign Language Interpretation and transcription by CART (Communication Access Through Realtime Transcription). For more information, visit baltjc.org or contact Matt Peterson at mpeterson@baltjc.org.

singram@midatlanticmedia.com

“It blew me away how much Americans knew and how little our country did.”
— Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC
“People didn’t pay attention. Maybe it was on the front page one day and then buried someplace else.”
— Jeannette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust programs for the BJC
“Knowing that this information was available to the public, we then ask why rescuing Jews didn’t become a priority.”
— Gretchen Skidmore, director of education initiatives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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