In German-occupied states during the Second World War, not one form of media was left untouched by the Nazi regime and Josef Goebbels’ far-reaching hand as the country’s minister of propaganda.
Newspapers, magazines, books, art, theater, music and radio became tools for pro-party propaganda after Hitler’s rule ended freedom of the press and freedom of speech in the country. Those aiming to create independent media separate from the regime could pay for their mission with their life. With mail interception, wartime correspondence between loved ones was also censored.
This history of censorship is the theme of the San Antonio Public Library’s “Holocaust Learn & Remember” series this year. Now in its 11th year, the series, hosted in partnership with The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio, takes place at a time when Texas leads the nation as the state with the most banned books in school districts and libraries.
“In 2021, in the deep of the pandemic, we did isolation. In 2022 the theme was immigration and refugees,” said Morgan Yoshimura, coordinator of services at San Antonio Public Library. “It’s my goal to pick a theme that’s relevant to current day. The history comes alive.”
It’s Yoshimura’s third year organizing the series along with leaders at The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio.
Operated by the nonprofit Jewish Federation of San Antonio, the museum welcomes visitors at its home in the Barshop Jewish Community Center, highlighting major historical moments in the Holocaust, including the executions of members of the White Rose, a nonviolent resistance movement that powered anti-Nazi leaflet distributions and graffiti campaigns.
Nehemia Ichilov, president and CEO of JFSA, said the month-long programming in “Learn & Remember” is all about making sure San Antonians understand how to deal with moments in today’s world by using the museum’s lessons as a backbone.
“In the Jewish tradition, we differentiate between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing things; wisdom is knowing what to do with that knowledge,” Ichilov said. He himself is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
Other programming throughout the month of January includes “Antisemitic Propaganda: Then and Now” by Roger Barnes, former chair of the sociology department at the University of the Incarnate Word, and “War of Ideas: Nazi Censorship and Book Burning.”
In his work, Barnes overviews the history of Nazi propaganda while also showing what neo-Nazi propaganda looks like in the modern day.
Meanwhile, the traveling exhibit remembers the tens of thousands of books burned by German university students in 1933, showing the widespread public support of Nazi censorship laws.
Beyond virtual and in-person presentations at public library branches across the city, the library and museum also work together on presenter visits to schools and educator workshops.
“At an elementary level, we discuss kindness,” said Leslie Met, director at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. “For middle and high school students, we focus on apathy, hate and prejudice.”
Although Met sees students drawing similarities between the Second War and current events — like the Russia-Ukraine war — she said modern politics are not brought into programming.
“We do, however, discuss that Hitler was elected in a democratic country,” Met said.
Yoshimura said navigating current politics from a historical lens is not discouraged, but left to the audience at SAPL events.
“We don’t have to agree all the time, but we can use various topics as a platform to engage in polarizing issues,” she said.
In a country that continues to see a rise in antisemitism, Ichilov is keen on reminding learners of their role in their democratic society. “We challenge everyone with the question: Now that you know, what will you do?”
Up-to-date program information including dates and presentation times for the series running until Jan. 29 can be found on SAPL’s website.