‘Americans and the Holocaust’ at Dayton Metro Library

Traveling exhibition is on loan from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial

Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial

When Jayne Klose was in college she spent a semester abroad in Germany.

“I remember going to the memorial at Dachau in 1979,” she says now. “I had learned a little bit about the Holocaust in World History class, but reading about it is one thing and seeing and experiencing it through more than the written word provides a much more powerful education. The videos and showers were so horrific; I literally sobbed.”

Klose will never forget the George Santayana words written in many languages at the death camp: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As community engagement manager at Dayton Metro Library and local project manager for the “Americans and the Holocaust” traveling exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Klose is currently helping citizens of the Miami Valley remember those important lessons from the past.

The Dayton Metro Library is one of only 50 academic and public libraries selected to host the exhibition that examines the motives, pressures and fears that shaped Americans’ responses to Nazism, war and genocide in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. The free exhibit will be at Dayton’s main library downtown through June 21 and is accompanied by docent tours and related programming.

This afternoon at 2 p.m. at the downtown library, a docent tour and presentation will be led by Ira Segalewitz, a local survivor of the Holocaust. When Nazis began their attack on Russia, he and his mother escaped deep into the Ural Mountains where they survived in a work camp. After the war they learned most of their family was murdered by the Nazis.

“Antisemitism is rising again and that’s so disturbing,” says Klose, who traveled to Washington with 49 representatives from the other selected libraries for training. “Our library is trying to do work in social justice and this exhibit falls squarely into that work. This is a wonderful opportunity to educate people and remind them how real the Holocaust was. There’s a lot of important data. People are forgetting and we can’t let that happen.”

Creating the exhibit

Rebecca Erbelding is the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum historian who worked on the exhibit. Although the museum has organized large touring exhibits in the past, she says those have traditionally gone to big metropolitan areas. The partnership with the American Library Association is exciting because it’s the first time an exhibit has been created that can fit in smaller spaces.

“It’s the story of American history and Americans don’t just live in major cities,” Erbelding notes. “Americans live everywhere and we felt this is an exhibit that should be available to everyone. Hawaii and Alaska are among the stops.”

In 20 years with the museum, Erbelding has worked with survivors of the Holocaust, with those who liberated the concentration camps and with family members who have donated materials to the collection.

The current exhibit, she says, reflects history that still had a lot of unanswered questions. “There has been a lot of scholarship done on the government response but not a lot of work done on how average Americans responded as it was happening. We wanted to find out how many refugees made it to the United States, what the waiting lists were like for U.S. immigration visas, how many ships arrived bringing refugees? We wanted to know what Americans actually knew, what information was available in the newspapers and how Americans responded to what they were reading, seeing and hearing.”

As part of the project the museum started a newspaper project, asking students, teachers, librarians and history buffs to research local newspapers of the times and submit them. “We now have more than 50,000 articles in an online database. In the exhibit, you’ll see examples of newspaper coverage of the Holocaust from all 50 states. There are also videos, interactives and photographs.” You can even see Articles from the Dayton Daily News from 1933-1945. If you click on an article, then click on the image, you will go to newspapers.com and can see the full article and full page.

“What we found was that Americans had quite a lot of information; the information was there for people who were interested,” says Erbelding. “People will see some of the challenges and fears that Americans had in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a time when antisemitism and racism were on the rise. When Roosevelt took office 25 percent of Americans were unemployed. Some Americans were advocating for refugees but many more, unfortunately, were saying ‘this is not our problem.’”

The exhibit seeks to put the history of what was happening in the United States in conversation with what was happening in Europe and show all of the different ways Americans responded to the Holocaust or chose not to respond.

Choosing Dayton

More than 200 libraries applied to host this special exhibit. In making the case for choosing Dayton, local library folks suggested that while “community partners and city leaders have the best of intentions, we still have a long way to go to educate citizens about the dangers of racism and prejudice.”

In its grant proposal, the Dayton library said it hoped to share “how bullying, racism and prejudice are a slippery slope to violence. We hope to leverage the exhibition to demonstrate how these attitudes threaten us still today, and that without vigilance and understanding, history may repeat itself.”

The plan was also to foster strong relationships with community and educationally-based organizations and introduce more people to the positive role libraries can play in supporting discussion. One of those organizations is the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton which has aided in planning some of the upcoming programming. “The Nazi movement still exists here in Ohio and here in Dayton and its membership is growing,” says Cathy Gardner, executive vice president and CEO. “What’s important about this exhibit is that we understand the conditions that allowed the Holocaust to happen and learn how to protect ourselves in the 21st century.”

The takeaways

Erbelding says this exhibit asks some of the fundamental questions that resonate throughout American history. “Who gets to be an American? How do we respond when people are suffering abroad? What is our role in the world, in our communities and in our country as international citizens?”

She believes visitors to the exhibit will learn a lot and walk away with a lot of questions as well. “That’s a good thing,” she concludes. “We want them to have conversations with friends and family. Elie Weisel said a museum is not an answer, it’s a question mark. We want people to think about what people could have done and ‘what would I have done?’ And then move to ‘what will I do now?’”


What: “Americans and the Holocaust,” a traveling exhibition on loan from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Where: Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third Street, Dayton

When: Through June 21. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Parking: Free

Tours: Docent-led tours will be available.


For more information about Americans and the Holocaust and related programming at Dayton Metro Library, visit www.daytonmetrolibary.org/exhibits. To learn more about the Washington D.C. exhibition, visit ushmm.org/americans-ala.

Related Programming: (Unless noted, all programming will take place at the Main Library in downtown Dayton)

  • Monday, June 5 at 7 p.m.: “Daytonians and the Holocaust: The View From Here.” Author and historian Marshall Weiss will explore Dayton-area responses, actions, and inactions connected to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
  • Thursday, June 8 at 7:15 p.m.: Dayton Jewish Film Festival Screening of “Charlotte” .” This animated biographical drama tells the true story of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon’s life in the south of France between 1941 and 1943, before she was sent to Auschwitz during World War II. The film will be followed by a short presentation by Dr. Edna Carter Southard. Please register at https://dayton.bibliocommons.com/events/6426feabb7f87f8f2cd8b47b
  • On Tuesday, June 13 at Wright State University and Wednesday, June 14 at the Main Library: “Courage, Knowledge & Community - Educator Training.” The Dayton Holocaust Resource Center and the statewide Holocaust and Genocide Education Network of Ohio are hosting a two-day conference for educators. Laura Boughton, program coordinator for the Holocaust Museum in Washington, will be presenting . For more information log onto https://tinyurl.com/yyjc72br
  • At 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16: “Belonging versus Othering.” A panel discussion on the current immigration landscape within the historic context of the 1930s and 1940s. Panelists: Dr. Theo Majka, University of Dayton; Gabriela Pickett, Dayton Metro Library; Desire Ntwayingabo, Welcome Dayton; and Neenah Ellis, The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices, WYSO. Moderator: Amaha Sellassie

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