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Holocaust Exhibit stirs reminders of personal intersections with history

Brad Mattheis shows the section on media.

For Brad Matthies, Gonzaga University's associate dean for library services at Foley Library, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Exhibit, "Americans and the Holocaust," stirred reminders of his family's intersection with that period.

That's what it is intended to do. It is to help Americans reflect, as the introductory panel says, on "the motives, pressures and fears that shaped Americans' responses to Nazism, war and genocide."

For him, the exhibit is an opportunity to allow the university both to share new scholarly research and to "offer a credible counter-narrative to the hateful rhetoric of today."

The free public exhibit, which runs from Tuesday, Aug. 23, to Friday, Oct. 7, was awarded to the Foley Library as one of 50 out of 250 applicants.

Housed in the Cowles Rare Books Reading Room on the third floor, its double-sided panels circle the room, inviting viewers to consider different themes and questions.

"We are the only library in our state to offer this exhibit that invites critical thought, social justice and cultural engagement," Brad said. "Those values represent the mission of Foley Library, Gonzaga University and the Gonzaga Center for the Study of Hate."

During a pre-event tour, someone's comment reminded him that his German Lutheran grandmother and mother had escaped from Berlin in the 1940s and settled in Northeast Nebraska. To avoid anti-German stigma, they changed their name from Braun to Brown.

In the section asking what Americans knew, the information panel on media is supplemented with a stand-up touch screen visitors can tap to learn what local media covered about Nazis, the persecution of Jews and the war.

"As a librarian with research skills, I can readily research 1940s Germany," he said, adding that Foley Library has about a third of the books referenced by the exhibit. Spokane Public Libraries have about two-thirds of the materials.

The exhibit's goal invites people to go beyond its panels of information, interactive displays and videos to stir interest in further study and engagement.

Exhibit organizers have prepared a handout when people ask, "What can I do?"

That handout suggests that visitors can learn ways they can become involved from the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, the Spokane Human Rights Commission, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and reading The Fig Tree newspaper.

Brad said four educational events coincide with the exhibit.

• The free, public opening event, "Americans and the Holocaust: Remembering our Past to Inform Our Future," is offered with partners, Foley Library, the Gonzaga Center for the Study of Hate and the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle.

In person and livestreamed from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 8, at Gonzaga's Hemmingson Ballroom, it features Julia Thompson, who works at the Seattle center, interviewing Holocaust survivor, Carla Peperzak, 98, who worked with the underground in the Netherlands during the war.

Gonzaga history professor Kevin O'Connor, who teaches about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, will provide historical context before the interview.

After the interview, Kristine Hoover, director of the Center for the Study of Hate, will look at present and future concerns and implications.

Pre-registration is required.

Other events include:

The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., are offering an in-service seminar for regional junior high and high school teachers of social studies, history and civics to equip them to teach about the Holocaust and related topics. The teachers' seminar is Sept. 7 and 8.

The Gonzaga Center for Community Engagement and the Opportunity Northeast Initiative are facilitating special tours for Garry and Shaw Middle Schools and Rogers High School classes. Other schools and congregations may arrange tours for 15 participants.

There is also a booklet for self-guided tours for people to use during hours the exhibit is open.

• Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein of the Religious Studies Department and the Jewish Bulldogs are hosting an event to introduce the Gonzaga student body to the Jewish faith, culture and music.

In the introductory panel, a looping silent film provides context for challenges Americans faced in the 15 years between the end of World War I in 1918 to 1932, the year before Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany and Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated as the U.S. President.

The first section explores what Americans knew about the Nazi persecution and murder of European Jews. It includes a newspaper collection compiled by teachers, students, librarians and history buffs who sent articles from local newspapers to the Holocaust Museum's online database.

The next section examines "Did Americans Help Jewish Refugees?" It introduces the American immigration process and obstacles in the 1930s and 1940s, the challenges Jews faced in seeking to leave Europe and come to the U.S., and stories of a few Americans who assisted refugees. Jewish immigrants were more than 50 percent of all immigrants to the U.S. in 1939.

A third section looks at reasons Americans went to war and debates in American society over whether to enter the war.

A fourth section looks at how Americans responded to the Holocaust after learning in November 1942 of the plan by Nazis and collaborators to murder all European Jews. A film in this section connects the timelines of the Holocaust and World War II.

"Americans could have done more," Brad asserted.

Public walk-in hours are 3 to 8 p.m., Wednesdays and 1 to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, and by appointment for group tours from Aug. 29 to Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 to 7, the hours are 1 to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, and 3 to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday, and by appointment for group tours.

For Brad, hosting an exhibition like this exemplifies one reason he came to Gonzaga four years ago.

As an academic librarian, he started in instruction and research, teaching classes in information literacy—helping college students think critically and use the library.

During his 11 years at Butler University in Indianapolis, he decided to enter library administration. He was library director for six years at Casper College in Wyoming before coming to Gonzaga.

When the position at Gonzaga opened, he applied readily because he knew about Gonzaga from working with a previous dean who had worked at Foley Library.

"As an academic librarian, I support the American Library Association's professional code of ethics related to intellectual freedom, social justice and education of the public," he said. "I appreciate that we can do good in the community through the library."

Growing up in Norfolk, Neb., in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, Brad—who doesn't call any one denomination home and worships at various churches in Spokane—said the values of serving community and doing good "were baked into me at an early age" during studies at a Lutheran parochial school.

Those values continued to be developed through his undergraduate studies at Wayne State College and graduate studies at Indiana University in Bloomington.

"Our awareness of the region's white supremacy calculated into the reason Paul Bracke, dean of Foley Library, courted this exhibit," Brad said.

Brad said "Americans and the Holocaust" is a 10-year project of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, anchored in an exhibition that opened in April 2018 in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the museum's 25th anniversary.

The exhibition stems from the museum's mandate to reflect on "the American aspects of the Holocaust."

The Gonzaga exhibit, "a snapshot of the full exhibit," poses questions that encourage people to think critically about the past and about the role of Americans in response to threats of genocide today, Brad said.

The "Americans and the Holocaust" traveling exhibition is visiting 50 libraries from October 2021 through November 2023.

For information, call 313-7017, email, or visit for tickets, hours and tours.

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2022