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George A. Smathers Libraries launches new online exhibit of Jewish life nearing the World War II era


Last week, the George A. Smathers Libraries opened a new online-only exhibit of Jewish life in Europe pre-World War II, called “The Gathering Storm: Jewish Life in Germany and Eastern Europe in the 1930s.”

Exhibit Coordinator Lourdes Santamaria-Wheeler said the items in the exhibit are “very rare and fragile.”

She said although the items are on the University of Florida’s campus, they are kept in climate-controlled stacks.

“The exhibit allows people to find out about these documents,” Santamaria-Wheeler said.

The Gathering Storm features 20 documents originating from some of the main European hubs for Jewish life before World War II including Berlin, Frankfurt, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Some of the documents are German or Yiddish newspapers, calendars and yearbooks. The exhibit utilizes its online platform by linking to digital formats of the original documents.

One document, Aus Vergilbten Akten, is stamped by “Offenbach Archival Depot.”

The depot sorted books that were looted in World War II  and returned them to their countries of origin. When a book couldn’t be identified, it was sent to Jewish learning centers around the United States and Israel.

UF’s copy of the document is one of only three known copies in the world today.

“It actually did survive the Holocaust itself,” Santamaria-Wheeler said.

The documents are kept in the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica in Library West. They are part of a collection of about 500 uncataloged items. About 50 pieces are from the Holocaust period, but the majority is from post-World War II and the Cold War era.

Although they haven’t been translated yet, curator Rebecca Jefferson provides a brief summary about the documents in the exhibit.

Jefferson said the exhibit shows people’s lives on the brink of change. She said a lot of research goes into what life was like for Jews during the Holocaust, but there isn’t a lot of research about what was going on right before that. She attributed that to documents and information during that time period not being widely available.

“We need to rescue it,” Jefferson said.

This exhibit is just a selection, not a comprehensive explanation of Jewish life during that time, Jefferson said.

The title is taken from one of Winston Churchill’s books of the same name. Jefferson said she thought the name fit the exhibit.

“That’s what was happening to European Jewry,” she said.

Jefferson said the exhibit questions whether the Jews knew what was happening at the time and how they coped with racism they were encountering.

She said by numbers, they could see that Jews were starting to leave, but others couldn’t because of economic means.

Following this exhibit, Smathers will showcase a physical exhibit called “Testimony” in April.

That exhibit will feature recent donations to the library and an unpublished autobiography of a UF professor who survived the Holocaust. There will also be print artwork that depicts the time.

“It is a range of material testimony to the fact of the Holocaust,” Jefferson said.



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