Libraries across the country have been hosting the traveling Americans and the Holocaust exhibit, and now it’s the Marshalltown Public Library’s (MPL’s) turn. The exhibit provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum arrived on March 26, and it will be in town until May 6.
The MPL is the only Iowa library to host this exhibit, and Library Director Sarah Rosenblum is excited for people from across the state and the country to stop by and learn about the important historic event.
“The exhibit is doing well. I’d say we have steady traffic, which I think is really great because that gives people time to view the exhibition and not feel hurried,” Rosenblum said.
It starts with a large panel in the main lobby that details some of the main points of the exhibit, and an educational video plays on a small screen above the panel, which paves the way for the other four informational panels further into the library.
Each of the double-sided panels located in the central part of the library cover specific topics marked by the questions printed on the endcaps. The first one asks a deceptively simple question: what did Americans know?
The first side of this panel discusses how Americans got their news during the time period and how that affected what people knew.
“(People got their news from) magazines, newspapers, the radio. There wasn’t TV, and there wasn’t 24-hour cable news,” Rosenblum said.
The panel showed magazine covers from the time. An issue of Vanity Fair from the early 1930s had Adolf Hitler on the cover. On the other side of the panel, it showed newspaper opinion polls from 1938.
One of the polls asked “Do you approve or disapprove of the Nazi treatment of Jews in Jermany?” Ninety-four percent disapproved and six percent of individuals approved. The poll to its right asked “Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live?” Seventy-one percent of people said no, 21 percent of people said yes and the other eight percent had no opinion.
Rosenblum related these numbers back to the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine as most people disapprove of the treatment of Ukrainians. However, allowing them to live in America does not poll highly.
While going through the exhibit, connections to Iowa also present themselves in some of the panels.
“There are two Iowa connections in the exhibit itself, and we have come across many Iowa connections,” Rosenblum said. “This is the exhibition that is right now in Bismarck, North Dakota. It’s in Virginia Tech. It’s this exhibition. It’s not like each state gets something specific about them.”
The first Iowa connection the exhibit details is a speech Charles Lindbergh gave in Des Moines that was covered by the Des Moines Register. Lindbergh was an isolationist and actively spoke out against American involvement in World War II.
The exhibit also had information on a woman from Eagle Grove named Helen Roseland. She tried to sponsor Franz Goldberger, a young teacher from Austria, so he could come to America, but he never made it out of Austria.
“Helen tried to rescue Franz. Unfortunately, he was murdered by the Nazis before he could get here, but this is this connection of this single woman from Eagle Grove, Iowa,” Rosenblum said.
Several stories of Americans trying to help Jewish people escape the conflict were detailed in the exhibit, but these attempts were not always successful due to the many difficulties surrounding the immigration process.
“People were trying to help people, but the red tape, the paperwork, the visas, there were a lot of road blocks,” Rosenblum said.
The third panel showed how America got involved with the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent mistreatment of Japanese Americans.
“The exhibition really tries to take into account what was happening on the whole, and I will call it the shameful history of our American past, where we interned Japanese Americans. Now we did not intern German Americans or Italian Americans. We interned Japanese Americans,” Rosenblum said.
Hollywood’s role in the war was also covered, and some of the propaganda they produced was displayed. Rosenblum said many studios at the time were run by Jewish immigrants, and that played a part in the content they made.
The last panel describes how Americans helped free concentration camps and how Hollywood told the story of the Holocaust after the war.
The exhibit is accompanied by four interactive electronic podiums that provide more information on specific topics. Rosenblum said the response to the exhibit has been overwhelmingly positive so far.
“I’ve had great response to the exhibition. I think that people, first off, are very proud that Marshalltown was chosen and people ask about that. I think a lot of people have some sadness, some tears,” Rosenblum said. “You can’t help but compare it to what is happening today.”
Various materials on the Holocaust are available to view and check out, both for kids and adults, and magazines from the time period are on display.
Rosenblum asks visitors to write in the guestbook, located near the magazine display, as well as leave a pin in the U.S, state, or city map after exploring the exhibit. Groups of eight or more should call ahead to schedule their visit.
The exhibit is free to view during library hours, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The exhibit will be disassembled on May 6, so visitors are encouraged to visit before then.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or