Wednesday, February 17, 2016
David Berg Foundation Supports New York Historical Society Exhibition that Traces the Rise of Anti-Semitism in Germany
At a time of continuing anti-Semitic propaganda and attacks against Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere, the New-York Historical Society will present a powerful exhibition that examines the rise of a culture of hatred. On view April 12 through July 31, Anti-Semitism 1919–1939 will trace the gradual and deliberate indoctrination of German citizens into active hatred of Jews through the ubiquitous words and images seen daily.
The exhibition will feature more than 50 objects dating from the Interwar years, drawn from the collection of The Museum of World War II in Boston, Massachusetts. Included will be examples of anti-Semitic books and signs, announcements of mass meetings that excluded Jews, the original outline of a 1939 speech by Adolf Hitler to the Reichstag about the “Jewish Question,” and a printing of the Nuremberg Laws denying Jews the basic rights of citizens that laid the legal foundation for the Holocaust.
Many objects on display will be disturbing to view, but they serve to convey the dangers of ignoring or discounting anti-Semitic discourse and underestimating the impact of hateful propaganda and religious intolerance more generally—a lesson of particular importance for the 200,000 New York City public school students who learn history with New-York Historical each year. The exhibition will also help explain the connection between anti-Semitism in Europe and the history of New York City and America, as those who fled Nazism deeply impacted American cultural, educational, and scientific institutions.
“Anti-Semitism is among the most harrowing topics of 20th-century history,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society. “While it is painful to see artifacts from a culture of hatred, understanding how such a horrifying moment in history developed is fundamental to helping us better grasp current events. The moral questions raised by the rise of Nazism in Germany transcend geographical and temporal boundaries, and it is the responsibility of institutions like ours to educate and inspire contemporary audiences to reflect on the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organizations, and nations when confronted with injustice. In addition, anti-Semitism is essential to the history of our city, as New York was so drastically changed by the influx of Europeans escaping Nazism. ”
Historical Background of the Exhibition
Long before Adolf Hitler rose to power, anti-Semitism plagued Europe. In Germany, the punitive 1919 peace agreement ending World War I exacerbated existing prejudices. Some people began to blame the Bolsheviks and “the Jews” for Germany’s forced demilitarization, its exorbitant reparations payments to the victorious Allied Powers, and the collapse of its economy. As the Nazi Party rose to power, it began a long campaign of indoctrinating German citizens with violent messages of hate through the widespread dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda. After consolidating its rule, it passed the Nuremberg Laws, systematically codifying anti-Semitism. Among these measures was the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, forbidding marriages and extramarital relations between Jews and non-Jews. In a 1938–39 questionnaire on view in the exhibition, Helga Fräenkel sought permission to marry the father of her children. The request was denied because she was Jewish.
The Nazi leadership passed increasingly harsh anti-Semitic laws that restricted the movement and lives of Jews. As shown through signs on view in the exhibition, Jews were forbidden to use the same park benches as their fellow German citizens who had been defined as “Aryans” and eventually were forbidden altogether from entering parks. These actions normalized the steadily mounting physical violence against Jews and destruction of their property, leading to their forced relocation to concentration and death camps, and ultimately to Hitler’s “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Problem”—the murder of six million European Jews.
Under the Nazi Regime, anti-Semitism penetrated every aspect of life, and even children’s books were not immune from its reach. Never Trust a Fox on the Green Heath and Never Trust a Jew by His Oath (1936) was an anti-Semitic children’s book printed by Julius Streicher’s publishing house. The author, Elvira Bauer, was 21 when she wrote this book. In The Jew as Destroyer of the Race (1934), one of the most virulent anti-Semitic books printed, “Aryan” women were warned about the dangers of associating with Jews. Both of these books will be on view in the exhibition.
Anti-Semitism 1919–1939 is made possible by support provided by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Charina Endowment Fund, the Barbara K. and Ira A. Lipman Family, Ed and Sandy Meyer, Ann and Andrew Tisch, Pam and Scott Schafler, the David Berg Foundation, Martin J. Gross, Ruth and Sid Lapidus, Martin Lewis and Diane Brandt, Cheryl and Glen Lewy, and Tamar J. Weiss.