Grant Support Materials: Exhibition Background and Key Messages

Stylized

Table of Contents

  1. About the Americans and the Holocaust Initiative
    1. The Initiative aims to promote:
  2. Introduction to the Americans and the Holocaust Exhibition
    1. Americans and the Holocaust online exhibition
    2. Exhibition Panels
    3. Historical Background and Overview of New Research
  3. Guiding Questions
    1. What did Americans know?
    2. Did Americans Help Jewish Refugees?
    3. Why Did Americans Go to War?
    4. How Did Americans Respond to the Holocaust?
  4. Key Concepts
    1. Americans Had Information
    2. Americans Faced Many Competing Priorities
    3. Americans Debated
    4. Americans Responded
    5. Americans Focused on Winning the War
  5. Frequently Asked Questions about the Holocaust

About the Americans and the Holocaust Initiative

The Americans and the Holocaust Initiative, a groundbreaking project of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is anchored in a special exhibition that opened to the public in April 2018 in conjunction with the Museum’s 25th anniversary. This initiative stems from a mandate in the Museum’s founding documents to reflect on “the American aspects of the Holocaust.” By examining this topic, the Museum poses challenging questions that encourage people to think critically about the past, as well as our role in responding to threats of genocide today.

The Initiative aims to promote:

  • An examination of how all parts of American society – the government, organizations, the media, popular culture, and the general public – responded during the rise of the Nazi threat and as news of the genocide became publicly known
  • Self-reflection and critical thinking about the various factors that shaped attitudes and actions during that moment of crisis and the factors that influence us today

Introduction to the Americans and the Holocaust Exhibition

Americans and the Holocaust online exhibition

Exhibition Panels

Historical Background and Overview of New Research

Spanish translation of Traveling Exhibition


This exhibition raises challenging and important questions about this critical moment in American history. The introduction to the traveling exhibition reads: "What did Americans know? What more could have been done?”

Holocaust history raises important questions about what the international community, including the United States, could have done to stop the rise of Nazism in Germany and its assault on Europe’s Jews.

By the time Nazi Germany forced the world into war, democratic civilization itself was at stake. The US military fought for almost four years to defend democracy, and more than 400,000 Americans died. American soldiers and civilians alike made enormous sacrifices to free Europe from Nazi oppression. Yet saving Jews and others targeted for murder by the Nazi regime and its collaborators never became a priority.

The United States alone could not have prevented the Holocaust, but more could have been done to save some of the six million Jews who were killed. This exhibition examines the motives, pressures, and fears that shaped Americans’ responses to Nazism, war, and genocide.

Guiding Questions

In keeping with the thematic approach of the Americans and the Holocaust exhibition, we hope that host sites will engage their communities in some of the key questions posed by the exhibit.

Founding Museum Chairman Elie Wiesel said “There are no answers. And this Museum is not an answer; it is a question mark.” This idea has guided our thinking about this topic. We strive to provoke new inquiry and reflection among our visitors, both about history and about our roles and responsibilities today. The following questions, explored in the traveling exhibition, may be useful in framing your programs:

  • What did Americans know?
  • Did Americans help Jewish refugees?
  • Why did Americans go to war?
  • How did Americans respond to the Holocaust?

Key Concepts

Frequently Asked Questions about the Holocaust

FAQ for librarians and educations with embedded additional resources