A new exhibit at the HMC highlights the important role played by the Detroit Jewish News in delivering war news to Detroiters.
At the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where newspaper history and highlights open up to the public, a place is held by the Detroit Jewish News.
An issue from the 1940s, accessible in an interactive showcase divided by years, draws headline attention to the very beginnings of the Nazi massacre of Jews, a subject then relegated to slight attention in a very different issue shown from the prominent secular press.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, also in Washington, launched a special exhibit that included pages from the Detroit Jewish News and its predecessor publication, the Jewish Chronicle. “Americans and the Holocaust” references the critical role of these two papers in keeping the public informed.
The overriding theme of reporting leadership as shown in both displays is being extended through a new exhibit in this area.
“The Holocaust Unfolds: Reports from the Detroit Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News” will be on view through Dec. 28 at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) in Farmington Hills. About 25 articles, chosen from many more archived in the Jewish News Foundation William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, have been enlarged for display and summarized through labels.
The exhibit is divided into three sections — “The Rise of Nazism,” “Living Under Nazism” and “Life After.” Docents are scheduled for tours to point out content in the unremitting coverage before the word Holocaust came to be used. A program on Dec. 9 will feature a concert recalling songs of the Holocaust (see below) and a reception.
“The content in the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, including screaming headlines and activist commentary by Philip Slomovitz — who had edited both newspapers during this timeframe — underscore the important and enduring role ethnic media outlets like ours play when the secular media choose to largely look the other way or are late to the game,” says Arthur Horwitz, executive editor and publisher of the JN and founder of the DJN Foundation. Because of involvement with the Newseum and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibit, he came up with the idea for the local exhibit based on what was shown in Washington and what was experienced in his own home.
“My mother was a Holocaust survivor, and my father was born and raised in Connecticut. As kids, we occasionally heard discussions around the dinner table about how much, or how little, American Jews knew about what was happening to European Jewry and why they weren’t more outspoken. Needless to say, some of these parental conversations became emotional.”
Horwitz started plans for the exhibit through discussions with Mike Smith, Detroit Jewish News Foundation archivist and columnist. The two met with Eli Mayerfeld, HMC chief executive, and Robin Axelrod, HMC director of education, before an exhibit team was set up with Smith, Sarah Saltzman, HMC director of events, and Mike Mulder, HMC exhibitions manager.
“This exhibit will not tell people what to think,” Smith says. “It will give them ideas to think about. In those times of distant upheaval, it was difficult to get reports from Nazi-occupied nations, but these two papers sought out the best sources they could find.
“Viewers will learn more about the Holocaust as it happened, and it’s a unique perspective because it shows how the Holocaust was brought before the eyes of the Detroit Jewish community through an American English publication. I hope people get the feeling of what it was like to be a Detroiter in 1942, 1943 and 1944 as many worried about family members still living in Europe.”
The articles became very personal by honoring local Jewish members of the armed forces, so many lost in the fighting of World War II. There also is a list of survivors trying to find relatives living in Michigan.
“Roughly 550,000 Jewish men and women served in the armed forces, more than the proportion of the population of the United States,” says Smith, also principal archivist for the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan.
“We tried to represent coverage and homage to the members of the Detroit Jewish community who did so much to support the war effort against the Nazis by serving in different ways and providing funding.”
The first part of the exhibit includes articles about Hitler’s rise to power, the threat to Jews, Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht. The second part delves into reports of atrocities, Russian Jews, the home front in Detroit, awakening of the world to the issues and the Warsaw Ghetto. The third part examines the resistance movement, American reactions to the Nazis, VE Day, Nuremberg trials, laws against genocide, the Eichmann trial and survivors.
An accompanying display case recalls a United Jewish Appeals mission joined by Louis Berry and Joseph Holtzman, leaders of the Detroit Jewish community. They visited displaced persons camps and Palestine in 1948.
“It’s fascinating to look back because we can see the steady steps with a historical perspective,” Saltzman says. “It’s also important to think about the mainstream media as compared to the Jewish media in letting people know what was going on in the world.”
Horwitz hopes viewers will take a closer look at Kristallnacht with its attacks on Jews and their properties and the ill-fated journey of the St. Louis, a ship filled with Jewish refugees denied entry into Cuba, the United States and Canada before being returned to devastation in Europe.
Readers of the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News could place the incidents in context.
“One of the strengths of a free press in our country is that citizens are able to receive multiple points of view and make informed decisions,” Horwitz says. “Publishers and editors of that era — just like today — had the right to espouse their own political or personal agendas.
“At the same time the Jewish News was pumping out huge headlines about massive deportations and exterminations of Jews, the Jewish-owned New York Times was able to squeeze a few low-key paragraphs into its ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print’ publication.
“This exhibit largely shows the role publications like the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News played in credibly educating, informing — and advocating for — their communities while constructing fact-based timelines that fake news peddlers and Holocaust revisionists can’t refute.”
LULLABY AND GOODNIGHT
From lullabies written to soothe children imprisoned at Terezin (Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech Republic) to songs of loss as faced by adults there, composing music was a form of expression that sometimes reached messages of hope.
Those songs have been researched by Rachel Joselson, soprano and music professor at the University of Iowa, and will be presented by her Sunday afternoon, Dec. 9, at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. She will be accompanied by pianist and university colleague Réne Lecuona.
Songs of the Holocaust, also available on recording (Albany Records), will be part of a one-time program that goes along with seeing the months-long exhibit “The Holocaust Unfolds: Reports from the Detroit Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News.”
Beginning at 3 p.m., the program also features a dessert reception. The cost is $10. To RSVP, call Brenndan at (248) 553-2400, ext. 145, or visit https://tinyurl.com/HMCJewishNews.
“The Holocaust Unfolds: Reports from the Detroit Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News” will be shown through Dec. 28 at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) in Farmington Hills. Free with museum admission fee. (248) 553-2400; holocaustcenter.org.