What, exactly, did newspapers across the U.S. have to say about the Holocaust during World War II? A digital project from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, newly out of beta, is turning to “citizen historians” to research how their hometown newspapers covered the Holocaust throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
History Unfolded asks readers to dive deep into their local libraries and historical societies as well as search online for newspaper archives for articles around a set of major Holocaust-related events, such as the opening of the Dachau Concentration Camp in March 1933 or America’s decision to send a team to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The pieces submitted by readers will help the Museum organize its 2018 exhibition on Americans and the Holocaust — and may even be used in the exhibit itself.
Through the project, the Museum is hoping to better understand how much people in the U.S. understood about what was going on in Europe at the time — the degree to which the scope of Nazi atrocities was adequately reported, and whether local newspaper coverage can shed any light on how community members reacted to any news of the Holocaust itself. National papers at the time, the History Unfolded site points out, didn’t give prominent placement to these Holocaust stories:
For example, the New York Times, the nation’s leading newspaper, generally deemphasized the murder of the Jews in its news coverage. Although the Times covered the December 1942 statement of the Allies condemning the mass murder of European Jews on its front page, it placed coverage of the more specific information released on page ten, significantly minimizing its importance. Similarly, on July 3, 1944, the Times provided on page 3 a list by country of the number of Jews “eradicated”; the Los Angeles Times places the report on page 5.
“Think of History Unfolded as both a marketing opportunity for your institution and a ready-made engagement tool for your visitors,” American Association for State and Local History president and CEO John Dichtl wrote in a blog post about the project while it was still in beta, encouraging local historical societies to spread the word. “The high-profile, national scope of this web-based initiative draws attention, and participating organizations can build on each other’s successes. Meanwhile, citizen historians will be looking for help in scouring local newspapers. Members of your community will want to use your collections and call on your research expertise and advice to enhance their participation in the program.”
Any visitor can jump in on the effort anytime and submit any local coverage they’ve found. All materials will be made available in an online database open to scholars and the interested general public alike.