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When words kill

Holocaust museum dissects Nazi propaganda to instill lessons in today’s youths

Rositta Kenigsberg, right, director of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, shows the opening panel of the

Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC

Rositta Kenigsberg, right, director of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, shows the opening panel of the "State of Deception" exhibit on Nazi propaganda. With her is Erin Cohen, educational coordinator.

DANIA BEACH | Swastikas saw through chains, blond soldiers stand proud, stereotyped Jews skulk and scowl. “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda,” shows how Hitler used lies and half-truths to win support, control a nation and commit mass murder.

The exhibit, showing through May 6 at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, is far more than a collection of Nazi posters. The show narrates the history leading up to the rise of Hitler and his supporters. And it helps viewers recognize propaganda, rather than fall prey to it.

In an age of resurgent hate and newly poisoned words and pictures, such a message is vital, said museum director Rositta Kenigsberg.

“This topic is extraordinarily important, and it’s perfect for this moment in history,” said Kenigsberg, herself a child of Holocaust survivors. “[The Holocaust] didn’t start with the gas chambers — it ended there,” Kenigsberg continued. “And the people allowed it. Almost like they were brainwashed.”

The exhibit, on loan from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has the support of the Archdiocese of Miami, which is helping publicize it. Father Patrick O’Neill, director of the Office of Ecumenism and Interfaith for the archdiocese, not only helped distribute more than 20 posters around South Florida; he also was on the board of the Holocaust center when it organized in 1980.

“This story belongs to everybody, not just Jews,” Father O’Neill said of the exhibit. “To me, this is part of the gospel — not just telling the good news, but defending it. Not letting bad news, including bigotry, compete with it.”

The Holocaust center is lining up Catholic schools to send classes to the show. Thus far, St. Lawrence School in North Miami Beach and Christopher Columbus High School, a Marist school on Miami, have scheduled visits.

They’ll see an exhibit that takes up nearly 4,000 of the Dania Beach museum’s 26,000 square feet. Along its winding path, one can see the ways in which Hitler and his deputies gained German confidence, then attacked and silenced those who disagreed with them.

Nazis tailored their message to appeal to many parts of society -- students, workers, farmers, even mothers -- says Erin Cohen, educational coordinator of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, whose

Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC

Nazis tailored their message to appeal to many parts of society -- students, workers, farmers, even mothers -- says Erin Cohen, educational coordinator of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, whose "State of Deception" exhibit runs through May 6.

Erin Cohen, the museum’s educational coordinator, noted that the Nazis were not the first or last to use propaganda. “But theirs was more sophisticated. It told a story about the workers awakening, and about the people who were said to be holding them back.”

 

EXPLOITING RESENTMENT

Interestingly, “State of Deception” opens not with Nazis but with the Treaty of Versailles. That treaty, drawn up after World War I, took land from Germany, limited its military, and imposed punitive reparation payments. The penalties brought hardship to Germans, wounded their national pride and bred resentment that the Nazis exploited.

A revealing series of posters shows how the Nazis fine-tuned their message for various groups: students, farmers, laborers, even housewives. A frequent scapegoat was “the Jew” — in one poster, a fat, big-nosed undesirable who gets a punch to the eye.

Visitors learn about Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of “public enlightenment and propaganda.” As the exhibit says, Goebbels directed not only the media but cultural output, including film, music and architecture.

Young Germans were a special target, the exhibit shows — not only through schools but through the Hitler Youth. The goal was “to produce obedient, self-sacrificing Germans who would be willing to die for Fuhrer and Fatherland.”

Among the biggest purveyors of anti-Semitism was Der Sturmer, the Nazi newspaper. A 1935 copy of the weekly paper at the exhibit accuses Jews of amassing wealth, then using it to agitate for war. Editor Julius Streicher openly called for “the annihilation of the Jewish race.”

Also at the exhibit is a clip from Jud Suss, a famous film about a Jew who disguises himself in order to infiltrate high society. It was more popular than The Eternal Jew, an anti-Semitic film masked as a documentary.

Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC

"Juden Raus (Jews Out)" was a Nazi-designed board game for children. The goal was to collect as many Jews as possible and send them to Palestine. The picture is part of the "State of Deception" exhibit at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center.

There’s even a board game, called “Juden Raus! (Jews Out!),” conditioning children to reject Jews as true Germans.

For ugliness, though, it’s hard to beat the pictures showing “the Jew” as a scowling, bearded, black-hatted, hook-nosed sneak. “HE is to blame for the war!” says one finger-pointing poster.

“Even your neighbor could become your enemy,” Kenigsberg said. “And (the propaganda) resulted in the deaths of millions of men, women and children.”

Rallies themselves became a form of propaganda, as the exhibit shows. With hordes of uniformed loyalists raising their hands and chanting “Heil Hitler” — and with a flood of paintings, posters and busts of Hitler for sale — it became hard to resist the tide of the “cult” surrounding him. 


INDIFFERENCE TO MURDER

Once in power, the Nazis retooled their message from discontent to praise for the new regime: the jobs it created, the new cars like the Volkswagen it built, the national pride it restored. This in the face of depressed wages and mass arrests.

Those arrested — not only dissenters but Jews, gays, Roma (Gypsies) and Jehovah’s Witnesses — were sent to concentration camps, some of which became mass extermination sites.

“Nazi propagandists did not dictate anti-Jewish policy,” says an exhibit text. “But they helped to create the climate of indifference, hate, and fear that made mass murder possible.”

Rositta Kenigsberg, director of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, is sponsoring the

Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC

Rositta Kenigsberg, director of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, is sponsoring the "State of Deception" exhibit on Nazi propaganda through May 6. The center is in Dania Beach.

Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC

"This story belongs to everybody," Father Patrick O'Neill, interfaith officer for the Archdiocese of Miami, says of the "State of Deception" exhibit at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center.

Viewers of “State of Deception” are prodded to do more than look and listen passively. They’re offered a checklist on elements of propaganda: It tells information selectively, simplifies issues, tells lies or half-truths, plays on emotions, attacks opponents and targets a particular audience.

The center’s 20-plus docents — trained according to a 28-page manual — coach visitors on lessons of the exhibit. They may ask how the Nazis created a “national community” that welcomed some people and excluded others. They may get people to analyze the words and pictures for their manipulative elements.

The Allies themselves used propaganda after World War II to “re-educate” the German people, “State of Deception” acknowledges. Allies also banned displays of swastika flags and publication of Der Sturmer, the Nazi newspaper. Editor Streicher himself was executed after conviction by a postwar military tribunal — the first-ever time that someone was convicted for killing through propaganda.

Nor do propaganda and its toxic effects merely lurk in the dark past.

The Anti-Defamation League reported 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in America last year, up 57 percent from 2016. Among them were swastikas scratched onto cars in Miami Beach, “fecal matter” on synagogue windows in Delray Beach, and a lacrosse player in Wellington called “Jew boy” and told to “burn in the oven with the rest of them.”

This on top of smaller versions of the Holocaust over the years: mass killings in Kosovo and Rwanda, and mass expulsions in Syria and Myanmar.

All the more reason to have students see “State of Deception,” to try and inoculate the next generation from hate-speech campaigns, said Kenigsberg, who expects about 2,000 to see the exhibit before it leaves in mid-May.

But she said she already sees the show affecting students for good.

“You see kids change before your eyes after the program, and they realize they can make a change,” she said. “They go into the world as ambassadors for humanity. I feel like there is life and hope.”

How to see the exhibit  

  • Event: "State of Deception," exhibit on Nazi propaganda
  • Featuring: Photos, posters, videos, texts on mechanics and consequences of propaganda
  • Where: Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, 303 N. Federal Highway, Dania Beach
  • Hours: By appointment
  • Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for students, free for Holocaust survivors, liberators and their spouses
  • Call: 954-929-5690

Comments from readers

Doug - 04/15/2018 04:01 AM
Once when I was teaching Middle school tje kids had just seen a film set in the Thirties in germany. I asked them, Where did Hitler get his Nazis, his willing helpers? No one knew. I said, All we have to do is look in the mirror.
Sue - 04/14/2018 04:16 PM
Why are the millions of Catholics who were exterminated by the Nazis always forgotten?? Yes, the Jews were initially the primary targets. But, it didn't take long for anyone who opposed the Nazi schemes to be sent to the concentration camps or killed. Look at the number of Poles who were killed, the number of priests & religious. All of the victims of this atrocity deserve to be memoralized so that humanity never allows this to happen again.
Mariusz Wesolowski - 04/14/2018 02:31 PM
Note the similarities with the politically correct propaganda of our times. Plus ça change...
Dee - 04/14/2018 01:25 PM
Sad to exclude members from the human family. That's how it's OK to exterminate them. Unborn babies and ethnic groups and creedal groups BEWARE!!
Bob - 04/14/2018 01:23 PM
For those who wish to see how the Nazis used an entire system to warp a nation's perceptions of reality, and bend it to their will, a small book by the name of "The Cunning of History", will leave the reader seeing the frighting parallels today.

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