Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the proper names of both the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights (previously reported as the Watson Center) and the Ahaveth Beth Israel synagogue (previously reported as Beth Israel).
The Americans and the Holocaust, a traveling exhibition that examines the circumstances that shaped Americans’ responses to the war and Nazism, is coming to the Albertsons Library in 2021. Out of 252 applicants, Boise State was selected as one of the 50 libraries to host the historical exhibition.
Multiple faculty members from Boise State lent a helping hand in the application process. Gwyn Hervochon, an archivist in Special Collections and Archives, is one of the main leaders and coordinators for the event.
“I submitted an application through the American Library Association who’s sponsoring the national tour, and this is an exhibit that exists in D.C. right now,” Hervochon said. “The Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, located in Boise, has all kinds of educational programming that they offer to students and they run and manage the Anne Frank Memorial. They wrote a letter of support for the application as did the synagogue, Ahaveth Beth Israel.”
Hosting an exhibition such as this one is extremely important to Boise State. Bob Reindhart, an assistant professor in the history department, said there are multiple reasons that Boise State’s selection is significant.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance and significance of Boise State’s selection as one of the very few institutions who will host this exhibit,” Reindhart said. “Obviously, our selection demonstrates the strength of the application, but more importantly I think it demonstrates the selection committee’s recognition of Boise and Boise State’s growing importance and role as a center for publicly-engaged and relevant scholarship, [and]the ability of and need for Boise State to work with diverse communities to connect our region’s history with national and international events.”
While the full exhibition is on display in Washington D.C., the traveling version is condensed. It will, however, still include many important features from the original.
“It uses primary sources from the 1930s and 40s. There’s reproductions of historic artifacts, documents, photographs, and even film footage,” Hervochon said. “So the exhibit that actually travels, it’s 18, freestanding exhibit panels that have images of these documents that help tell the story as well as I think four video screens that come with it and then a video interactive map.”
While it is honorable to be selected to host an exhibition such as this, it is also necessary to understand why learning about the Holocaust is crucial, according to David Walker, an associate professor of military history at Boise State.
“First, the Holocaust is a unique event in terms of the scale of the annihilation of a people. This uniqueness led to a post-World-War II world where there is greater awareness of such ideas as genocide and crimes against humanity,” Walker said. “Second, the Holocaust is a simple reminder also of what happens when humans divide themselves into groups and when that happens it becomes easier to justify cruelty to the other group – because they are not one of us.”
This opportunity also provides Boise State with an award that helps go towards any extra costs needed to set up the exhibition.
“The award comes with $2,000 to help put on the public programming,” Hervochorn said. “All of the host sites who get the exhibit have to post a minimum of four free public programs. Ideally, they target a variety of ages and different levels of expertise, including programs that directly engage students. So that money will go specifically to organizing and bringing in speakers and any other costs.”
The exhibition will run on campus for five weeks in 2021. Reindhart explained why it is not just important for students to visit this exhibit, but faculty and community members as well.
“It’s a rare opportunity to experience an exhibit of this significance and quality — nationally-touring exhibits are almost always outstanding,” Walker said. “The content of the exhibit is critically important, because we must never forget the horror of the Holocaust. As the organizers of the exhibit says, the hope is that the exhibit will “challenge people to not only ask ‘What would I have done?’ but also, ‘What will I do?’”