history unfolded

How much did Americans know about the Holocaust when it was happening? How did they respond?

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum needs your help. It is launching a “citizen history” project in which people around the country will examine how their hometown newspapers reported on Holocaust-related events during the 1930s and 1940s.

For example, how did journalists report the first news of an extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and how did Americans respond?

This is a unique opportunity to engage in real-world research and historical thinking using a combination of online databases, microfilm, and even hardcopies of newspapers held in local libraries, universities, and historical societies. (Read AASLH President & CEO John Dichtl’s article on using this project to engage your institution’s visitors and community.) As you find articles, you can submit data about your discoveries into a centralized online database. This will allow the Museum and others to visualize, analyze, and re-evaluate what we know about trends in US news reporting during the Holocaust. Data collected through this project will be used to inform the Museum’s upcoming exhibition on Americans and the Holocaust, and may even be displayed in the exhibition, when it opens in 2018.

  • Explore Holocaust history as an American and local story.
  • Research the past using primary sources.
  • Challenge assumptions about American knowledge of and responses to the Holocaust.
  • Contribute to what is known about US newspaper coverage of the Holocaust.

Everyone is welcome to participate. The project is particularly well-suited for students and enthusiasts of US and local history, American studies, mass communications, and journalism. A beta version is available for testing at ushmm.org/history-unfolded. Initially, ten events will be available for investigation. The project will be refined based on feedback from participants, and more events will be added in early 2016.

Information about Nazi persecution of Jews and others was often available to broad segments of the American public as it happened. This project allows you to investigate Holocaust-related reporting within a larger context, recognizing how competing priorities in the U.S. at the time weighed heavily into decisions on immigration and intervention. Together, we can gain insight into how Americans—from ordinary citizens to the president—understood the threat of Nazism, perceived responsibility to respond to the Nazis’ expansionist and murderous goals, and dealt with the challenges that influenced response options.

Questions? Contact David Klevan at dklevan@ushmm.org for more information.

Read AASLH President & CEO John Dichtl’s article on using this project to engage your institution’s visitors and community.