In this post, Bridgewater College junior Samantha Savage describes how her extensive research helped her challenge her prior assumptions about the Holocaust.
Passing on the Baton
In fall of 2016, I overheard one of my colleagues, Emily Thomas, talking about her internship for the History Unfolded Project. Working alongside Emily was one of our European history professors, Dr. Martin Kalb, who later asked me to continue Emily’s research for the spring 2017 semester. Prior to his invitation, over the summer, I had emailed Dr. Kalb to see if he had any internship opportunities and a few months later I was the new intern for this project. While at Bridgewater College, I have had Dr. Kalb for three classes: Genocide, European History from 1492-1789, and Modern Germany. After having many classes with both Emily and Dr. Kalb I accepted the internship and was ready to begin my research.
Cutting Edge Tech Historian
On the first day of my internship, Emily showed me how to use the microfilm reader. Before the internship, I had never encountered a microfilm reader so this was a new experience for me. However, the odds were in my favor because the library had recently purchased a new machine after their old machine had broken during Emily’s research. As a future historian, this is a key skill to learn for my field and will be a future asset when applying for jobs. Learning to use the microfilm reader is just one facet of this internship, other skills that I inquired were navigating digital platforms and organizing documentation. I also began to think more broadly about the discipline of history, beyond the classroom.
After I delved into my work I found multiple articles pertaining to events in the History Unfolded Project. One of my favorite published articles during my internship was “Nazi Treatment of Jews is Called ‘Inhuman,’ ‘Bestial,’ ‘Barbaric’ in U.S., and Abroad.” This article appeared in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record on November 14, 1938 and it described the United States’ response to the German treatment of the Jews. The reason this article stood out to me is because it shows how early the U.S., among other countries, were aware of Germany’s treatment of the Jews; it also hints at their reluctance to get involved.
Another article that I found particularly interesting was “Nazis Refer to Jim Crow Cars.” This article focused on Hitler’s justification for segregating Jews from German society by referring to the Jim Crow Laws in the United States. Both of these articles struck me because they told an aspect of the years preceding the Final Solution that I was unaware of and articles such as this are what makes my work worthwhile.
A New Perspective on the Past
I was surprised to find out about the widespread coverage of the rise of Nazism in local newspapers. In my pre-college education, I only learned that the U.S. was unaware of the Third Reich’s treatment of the Jews. However, it is evident in my research that this was not the case. Without my research, I may not have known that or that the U.S. condemned the Nazi’s actions as early as 1938. Throughout my years in grade school, I was never taught that the U.S. had previous knowledge of the treatment of the Jews prior to the “liberation of the Jews” in 1945. After my research, I now know that at least some newspapers reported on the Holocaust much earlier that the U.S. curriculum has shielded this aspect of the war from their citizens. As a result, I know that my research contributes to our understanding of the Holocaust, based on research from my small town in Harrisonburg, VA.
A Prolific Citizen Historian
This semester I have had the privilege to conduct research for the History Unfolded Project as an intern for the spring 2017 semester. I have developed multiple skills from this internship and now have a better understanding about what public history is all about. What I appreciate most about my internship is seeing my work get published on the USHMM website. It is an amazing feeling to see my research get published and out there for the rest of the world to see. So far, I have published sixty articles and will continue to further my research for the History Unfolded Project this summer and next fall. Because of publishing sixty articles, I changed the color of Virginia by helping my state reach 200 published articles. This was one of my goals that I wanted to meet this semester and I am happy that I was able to accomplish this goal and uncover an untold history at the same time.
I have learned that public history as a profession can be dry at times but that it is a rewarding profession and can uncover a lost history that would be buried from the public otherwise. The reason this internship can be “dry” is that I am an extrovert and love the outdoors, which makes sitting in the basement of the library a lonely experience. However, I took advantage of Virginia’s frequent April showers so that I could enjoy the beautiful May flowers and sunshine. While I still do not know what avenue I would like to follow with my degree, I now have a better understanding about what public history is all about. The reward of uncovering the untold history of the Holocaust in my hometown of Harrisonburg VA, for the USHMM has been a rewarding experience and I hope to continue to uncover history that would be hidden from the general public otherwise.