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Citizen Historians, U.S. Newspapers, and the History of the Holocaust

This text is from the Winter 2019 challenge of History Information, AASLH’s quarterly journal. Members can entry the full concern in the Resource Middle.

By David Klevan and Eric Schmalz

On the eve of America’s entry into World Struggle II, Fajwal “Fred” Hendeles appeared with a broad smile and a dozen roses at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, looking for employment. Hendeles, a Jewish refugee from German-occupied Poland, had escaped a German pressured labor camp, fleeing to Shanghai by way of the Soviet Union and Japan. On September 28, 1941, he boarded the S.S. President Pierce as a stowaway sure for San Francisco. The ship manifest listed Hendeles as an “indigent” with no passport or visa. He entered the nation with help from the Hebrew Immigrant Help Society and the Kaiser shipyards offered Hendeles with employment as a steamfitter. Two months later, the United States was at conflict.

Hendeles’s story—uncovered by volunteers working with the Richmond Museum of History in Richmond, California—is one of many who have emerged from the nationwide “citizen history” challenge, History Unfolded: U.S. Newspapers and the Holocaust. Publicly launched by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in early 2016, History Unfolded invites individuals throughout the country to research how their local newspapers reported on Holocaust-related occasions during the 1930s and 1940s. Undertaking members share their discoveries by uploading findings to a searchable on-line database. The museum has used this knowledge to help exhibitions, instructional assets and packages, and hopes it is going to be used to help future scholarship.

The thought for History Unfolded emerged in 2014, when employees gathered to debate the Holocaust Museum’s new initiative on People and the Holocaust. Like earlier initiatives, People would come with new scholarly research and a particular exhibition, then scheduled to open in spring 2018. Nevertheless, the small group gathered that day sought to inject something new. Somewhat than the museum performing analysis, mounting an exhibition, and then creating instructional assets and packages, what if the museum requested faculties and the public to perform analysis forward of the exhibition launch—research which may assist shape the exhibition and even future scholarship on the matter?

What if the museum requested faculties and the public to perform analysis ahead of the exhibition launch—analysis which may assist shape the exhibition and even future scholarship on the matter?

This strategy was formidable, nevertheless it made sense. An investigation of reporting by local newspapers in American communities had by no means before been pursued on this scale. It provided the museum a singular alternative to research an in any other case distant and typically abstract “European” history of the Holocaust by making it American and local in a really concrete method. This may also permit the museum to interact learners in the discovery course of, uncovering what info was out there to members of their communities about the menace of Nazism and the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s. Thus, it might reinforce understanding that whereas the Holocaust befell in Europe, it was additionally an American story.

As a participatory “citizen history” undertaking of nationwide scope, History Unfolded provided further alternatives for the museum. First, because the museum itself does not home the newspaper collections used for this research, it was necessary to do research in the subject. Second, the broad research scope and large dispersal of sources would have made it troublesome to do this with no crowdsourcing factor. Third, and most importantly, the undertaking gives a superb opportunity for college kids and the broader public to study history by studying the best way to do main source research.

In 2014, the idea of “citizen history” was relatively new. Prior to utilizing the phrase to explain one of their tasks in 2005, Holocaust Museum employees had never seen it used elsewhere. For Holocaust Museum employees, citizen history is more than crowdsourced knowledge collection.1 Slightly, it builds upon the present analysis and collections of an institution, and at its greatest, encourages amateurs and lovers to formulate authentic analysis questions and helps them study the process for answering them. This engagement with citizen historians can also enhance the popularity and authority of native history establishments, promote access to their digital collections, and assist to grow their communities of stakeholders, both digital and in-person.2

Because individuals in History Unfolded study while contributing to a big nationwide effort on behalf of a trusted establishment, they have a tendency to precise excessive levels of dedication and self-motivation and recognize the opportunity to do meaningful work. Subsequently, museum employees seen citizen history as a win-win. Members might study the Holocaust whereas creating authentic analysis expertise, a love of historical past, and a strengthened affinity for the museum and its mission. In flip, the museum would compile giant portions of knowledge to help shape an exhibition, packages, and assets. In the process, the museum additionally would develop a devoted corps of institutional stakeholders around the nation.

A woman observes a digital exhibition panel displaying a newspaper article from the World War II era.

The Holocaust Museum’s determination to launch a large scale, multi-year citizen historical past venture was not without risks and challenges. One key challenge was how greatest to help members entry extensively dispersed collections, sometimes on microfilm and of various quality. Unsurprisingly, a serious determinant of the breadth and scope of newspaper articles submitted to History Unfolded from any specific state corresponds as to if the state’s historic newspaper collections have been digitized and are easily accessible online. Nevertheless, most native newspaper collections from the 1930s and 1940s can be found only on microfilm or in exhausting copy, and some collections are incomplete. Sometimes, the collections are housed in local or state libraries, college libraries, or historical societies. Subsequently, the lively participation of organizations housing the collections is important to the undertaking’s success.

As well as, many citizen historians will not be conversant in microfilm know-how, and many young citizen historians are unfamiliar with print newspapers altogether. Subsequently, the History Unfolded website supplies individuals with steerage on where to seek out print newspaper collections, how their info is organized, and the best way to use a microfilm reader. The challenge website also offers scaffolding for the analysis course of itself, focusing the analysis of citizen historians. History Unfolded has identified more than thirty Holocaust-related occasions of specific interest to the museum for citizen historians to make use of as a guiding framework for research of their local newspapers. A short historical summary is offered for every occasion, in addition to date ranges and keyword search options. When citizen historians discover an article, they are prompted to add their discovering, along with specific metadata resembling page quantity, date, headline, and writer. All submissions are reviewed by employees and volunteers, who incessantly provide feedback to members on their analysis.

Despite the challenges associated with access to collections and learning how one can perform research with historic newspapers, History Unfolded has enjoyed vital success. That is due largely to the museum’s willingness to dedicate employees and volunteers to interact challenge individuals. The museum invested in a full-time group manager dedicated solely to the History Unfolded venture. This fostered a daily circulate of communication between citizen historians and the museum, enhanced participant engagement, and resulted in a high fee of retention. Educators whose students take part in the undertaking are likely to return with new courses yr after yr. History buffs, who contribute the bulk of submissions to the challenge, continue to participate months, or even years, later. When tasked with specific analysis assignments, such citizen historians sometimes respond with zeal and take delight in the museum’s reliance upon their participation.

When tasked with specific research assignments, such citizen historians sometimes reply with zeal and take delight in the museum’s reliance upon their participation.

In three years, over ten thousand individuals, one-fifth of whom are educators, have created accounts on the History Unfolded website. Roughly 30 % of registrants have submitted knowledge to the undertaking, and as of September 2018, virtually fifteen thousand articles from newspapers in all fifty states (plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico) have been listed in the venture’s online database. The Holocaust Museum has organized group events referred to as “research sprints” to focus citizen historians on the investigation of reporting about specific Holocaust-related events or newspapers from particular communities. Research sprints are organized occasions throughout which teams of citizen historians gather—typically in individual at a library, archive, or historical society, different occasions nearly—to research one or more History Unfolded occasions in a selected assortment of newspapers. Earlier analysis sprints have generated content material, reminiscent of letters-to-the-editor advocating for and towards the Wagner-Rogers Invoice of 1939, some of which appear in the museum’s particular exhibition, People and the Holocaust, that opened in April 2018.

Research by citizen historians has offered visible evidence that illustrates the context during which People discovered about Nazi persecution and homicide of European Jews. For example, main public events that shocked the conscience—reminiscent of the Nazi boycott of Jewish companies in April 1933 and the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938—typically have been reported on front pages in communities giant and small throughout the United States. These tales ran for several days or even weeks, but they didn’t appear in a vacuum. The Nazi boycott shared area on the front web page with President Roosevelt’s order to chop veterans’ advantages, efforts to repeal Prohibition, New Deal tasks, developments in the Scottsboro Boys case, and devastating storms that killed scores of individuals throughout the South.

In lots of communities across the United States, information about the Holocaust was obtainable, nevertheless it was not all the time outstanding, and protection was typically ephemeral. As soon as America entered the conflict, the consideration of People shifted, understandably, to the progress of the struggle.

Indeed, after U.S. entry into the warfare in 1942, front pages have been dominated by information related to the warfare effort. Tales about the Nazi plan to kill all Jews (the “Final Solution”) appeared in many American newspapers the day earlier than Thanksgiving (November 25, 1942); the prime story in many papers that day was that the Soviets finally had broken the siege at Stalingrad and almost encircled the German military. The Allies’ public condemnation of the “Final Solution” appeared December 17, 1942, one week before Christmas. It was not uncommon to seek out these articles on interior pages of newspapers printed beside ads for turkeys and holiday sales. The History Unfolded challenge has helped both the museum and the public study extra about the specific contexts during which many People discovered about the Holocaust and Nazism.

There’s still a lot to study from History Unfolded. With a extra complete knowledge set, employees at the museum look ahead to analyzing and evaluating coverage across communities—in university newspapers, Jewish and Catholic newspapers, African American newspapers, newspapers giant and small, city and rural.

Two African American women are seen looking through boxes of microfilm in a drawer.

In addition to its broad attraction among educators, History Unfolded presents librarians, archivists, and employees at historical societies ample alternatives to satisfy their institutional goals. Some of the most progressive approaches to and most enjoyable outcomes from the challenge have come from special packages by which libraries and historic societies have engaged employees and volunteers to research collections.

The Richmond Museum of History in Richmond, California, for instance, started its participation in History Unfolded in 2016. Employees there were curious to seek out out what details about the Holocaust, if any, was obtainable to the area people—residence to the Kaiser Shipyards, which made vital residence front contributions to the warfare effort during WWII. Have been the men who constructed the ships conscious of Nazi persecution and homicide of European Jews? Or have been their eyes solely on the Pacific theatre? The museum placed ads in the local Jewish newspaper and invited members of a close-by synagogue to take part in volunteer analysis utilizing the museum’s collections of historical newspapers. Ultimately, they expanded analysis beyond just what their group may need recognized about the Holocaust to an exploration of the historical past of Jewish Richmond and surrounding Contra Costa County, leading to a new exhibit that opened in January 2019 documenting the Jewish history of the city and surrounding area. The exhibition consists of the aforementioned story of Fred Hendeles and the native press response to the Holocaust.3

Some of the most progressive approaches to and most enjoyable outcomes from the challenge have come from special packages by which libraries and historic societies have engaged employees and volunteers to research collections.

Other establishments took totally different approaches to the venture, however with similarly productive outcomes. Jill Weiss Simins, a historian at the Indiana Historic Bureau, seen participation in the venture as a chance to “help make sure that the lessons and warnings of the Holocaust are not forgotten” and to “make Holocaust history more accessible [and] relevant to Hoosiers, who sometimes feel removed from national conversations.” Weiss Simins labored with intern Jenna Auber to upload content material to the History Unfolded web site, featuring their findings in the Hoosier State Chronicle blog. At the suggestion of the History Unfolded group manager Eric Schmalz, Weiss Simins and Auber recruited a small, highly engaged group of citizen historians from native universities for a research dash to research Holocaust occasions in the two Indiana newspapers with the largest circulation in 1940 and upload entries for every to the History Unfolded database.

Equally, for Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Tasks Librarian at the Montana Historical Society, History Unfolded provided a method to make her collections extra visible and out there to students. After first digitizing and importing articles from the historic society collection, Hollenbach set up inner “research sprints” for her colleagues. She started small, asking for a couple of hours of employees time and maintaining a versatile schedule. Hollenbach made positive everybody knew they have been welcome regardless of expertise, each on the challenge and with the microfilm readers; this ensured a unbroken quantity of new converts to the challenge and prolonged word of mouth promoting about how much fun it was. Via the employees sprints and Hollenbach’s individual contributions, the Montana Historical Society has uploaded a whole lot of Montana newspaper articles.

Participation by public historical past organizations has confirmed crucial to the success of the History Unfolded challenge. Their potential to interact local communities in research, discovery, and studying has made vital contributions to the breadth and variety of native reporting indexed in the museum’s database. Of equal importance, this participation has made local collections and local history more seen, and has allowed employees, volunteers, and members of the public to study their group’s position in Holocaust historical past.

A close up image of a smart phone in front of a microfilm reader, demonstrating the app used to upload newspaper articles for the exhibition.

History Unfolded has demonstrated its potential as an interesting schooling software that teaches helpful research expertise and encourages crucial considering. During the venture’s first three years, the Holocaust Museum has listed more than fifteen thousand entries for newspaper articles submitted by citizen historians throughout the nation in a searchable online database. This will only be seen as a serious accomplishment and a profitable starting. Nevertheless, half of these submissions got here from newspapers revealed in only eight states (primarily in what at the moment can be referred to as “the Rust Belt”).

For the venture to perform as a consultant index of American news reporting, and to maximize its value for historic establishments and scholars, a constant minimal knowledge pattern have to be collected throughout all fifty states. In an effort to realize this objective, the museum instructs individuals to analysis newspaper reporting a few particular restricted set of Holocaust-related occasions. It aims to compile a per state pattern of at the least one knowledge submission for every Holocaust-related occasion for the two newspapers with the highest circulation in 1940. This should present a minimum degree of consistent knowledge throughout states and permit for meaningful state-to-state comparisons of reporting at the time.

The museum will proceed to simply accept research submitted to History Unfolded by way of summer time 2021.Subsequently, libraries, archives, and historical societies have ample time to lend their experience and be sure that their communities are represented in the venture outcomes. In 2021, the museum plans to shift the undertaking focus from amassing new knowledge to synthesizing and analyzing the compiled knowledge. Correspondingly, the Holocaust Museum expects to offer tools that may permit citizen historians, Holocaust historians, and digital humanities students to filter, type, and analyze the knowledge with a view to evaluate developments and anomalies and draw conclusions about this history based mostly on the accrued proof.

Although the Holocaust befell primarily in Europe, the analysis of citizen historians from around the United States makes clear that additionally it is an American story. It was informed in entrance page headlines, editorials, letters-to-the-editor, and political cartoons of native newspapers from Richmond, California, to Helena, Montana, to Indianapolis, Indiana. By analyzing the info obtainable to People, the stories we chose to tell, and the opinions we revealed, we study as much about who we have been as People as we do about how People responded to the Holocaust.

David Klevan is Schooling Outreach Specialist in the Levine Institute for Holocaust Schooling at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where he develops instructional assets and packages for a diverse group of audiences. Mr. Klevan focuses on experiential studying in online and digital learning environments. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1990) and his grasp’s diploma in Schooling at the Harvard Graduate Faculty of Schooling (2004). Contact David at [email protected]

Eric Schmalz is the group manager for the History Unfolded challenge at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He oversees the evaluation of newspaper submissions to the undertaking website, assists individuals with their questions, and helps educators effectively incorporate History Unfolded into numerous studying environments. Mr. Schmalz focuses on creating and deepening genuine human connection by means of his work. He earned his bachelor’s degree in History at the School of William and Mary (2010) and his master’s degree in Educating (Secondary Social Studies) at the College of Virginia (2011). Contact Eric at [email protected]


[1] There are several wonderful examples of cultural institutions utilizing crowdsourcing to transcribe and index historical paperwork. For instance: “The World Memory Project,” US Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed January 29, 2019, https://www.ushmm.org/online/world-memory-project/; “Transcription Center,” Smithsonian Instititution, accessed January 29, 2019, https://transcription.si.edu/; “Citizen Archivist Project,” Nationwide Archives and Data Administration, last reviewed November 7, 2018, https://www.archives.gov/citizen-archivist; and “Operation War Diary,” Imperial Struggle Museum and National Archives, accessed January 29, 2019, https://www.operationwardiary.org/.

[2] Elissa Frankle, “Making History with the Masses: Citizen History and Racial Trust in Museums,” Digital Dialogues, Maryland Institute for Know-how in the Humanities, April 4, 2013, https://mith.umd.edu/dialogues/making-history-with-the-masses-citizen-history-and-radical-trust-in-museums/.

[3] Fajwal “Fred” Hendeles turned an American. He married, had youngsters, and lived the relaxation of his life in California. He died at age 91 in Los Angeles.


This text is from the Winter 2019 difficulty of History News, AASLH’s quarterly magazine. Members can entry the full problem in the Resource Middle.