‘Americans and the Holocaust’ traveling exhibit arrives at UC Irvine’s Jack Langson Library
Students of history can now visit UC Irvine’s Jack Langson Library to view “Americans and the Holocaust,” a traveling exhibition that speaks to the knowledge, thoughts and fears of the American public of World War II and its impact in Europe.
The exhibit opened on Wednesday and will run through March 9 in the library’s lobby.
This is the first time the exhibition has gone on tour, according to historian, archivist and curator for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Rebecca Erbelding. The exhibition is sponsored by both the museum and the American Library Assn.
“The tour was slated to begin in March 2020, and obviously that quickly changed,” said Erbelding. “We have four identical exhibits that tour simultaneously, allowing us to reach 50 university and public libraries over the span of the tour. The rescheduled tour began in late 2021 and will continue until late 2023.”
It was funded by Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, the Bildner family and Jane and Daniel Och.
The university is among the third group of libraries to receive the exhibition but is the only one in Southern California.
The process to bring the exhibit to UC Irvine took nearly three years.
University librarian Lorelei Tanji said library officials initially submitted the application in July 2019 after hearing about the exhibit from Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine), who saw it at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. They got word of approval to showcase the exhibit in October that same year.
Erbelding said the museum received applications from over 250 libraries and was evaluating them on the basis of the creativity and strength of their program plans, the support for the exhibit within the community and the reasons the library wanted to host the tour.
Erbelding also said they picked UC Irvine based off of their application and the depth of the library’s existing programming.
“Many libraries wrote of antisemitic actions within their communities or a general lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and felt that the exhibit could bring people together for important conversations,” said Erbelding.
Orange County is no exception to that.
Hate crimes increased by 35% in 2020, according to a report released by nonprofit Orange County Human Relations Commission.
At least 112 hate crimes and 263 hate incidents — hate-motivated attacks that did not rise to the level of a crime — were documented by local law enforcement, educational institutions, community organizations and individuals that year, with a number of them directed at the Asian American community.
At least 94 of 103 reported incidents that were motivated by religious prejudice were antisemitic.
“We were excited to apply [to host the exhibition] for a couple of reasons. One, it would be so neat to bring an exhibit from Washington, D.C. for the campus and the Orange County community and region to see because many people might not have had a chance,” said Tanji. “But, the other reason we applied is because the topic was so appealing.
“The topic is ‘Americans and the Holocaust’ and most exhibits about the Holocaust and World War II, they tend to focus on what happened in Europe. What this exhibit does switches the focus onto the United States and it really asks the questions of: What did Americans know and what more could have been done?”
Tanji said library officials felt it was intriguing to think about an exhibit that explores the issues, motives and pressures that Americans were experiencing in relationship to World War II.
She said she had read about the growth of antisemitism and acknowledged the recent attack on a Texas synagogue. She felt that having an exhibition of this nature acknowledges the fact that antisemitism did not only just exist in the 1930s and 1940s — which the exhibit focuses on — but remains present today and continues to impact the Jewish community.
“We’re really thinking of this as an educational thing for students in particular for UCI but also for the community,” Tanji said.
The university is also hosting several events virtually around the exhibit and curated its own complementary exhibit called “Snapshots of Orange County in the 1940s: Spaces, Places, Faces” that focuses on the cultural, political and social landscape of the county at the same time. That exhibit will be on display through the fall.
Visitors are welcome at either of the exhibits at the Jack Langson Library any time during regular library hours. For more information on upcoming panels or the exhibits, visit lib.uci.edu/americans.
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