For the past two years, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has embarked on an unprecedented effort to engage citizen historians and students throughout the country with an innovative crowdsourcing project called “History Unfolded” to understand how American newspapers reported on events leading up to and during the Holocaust. Local news outlets, like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have contributed to this important new resource and are re-publishing articles revealing what information was available to Americans during the 1930s and 1940s about the rise of Nazism and the persecution of Jews.
To date, nearly 2,500 people from across the country have contributed to “History Unfolded”, which now features more than 15,500 article clippings. Selections from the “History Unfolded” findings are being woven into a special exhibition Americans and the Holocaust that is opening on April 23, coinciding with the Museum’s 25th anniversary.
The Post-Gazette will be highlighting 20 articles from our archives that ran between March 1933 and April 1945. These pieces include newswire stories and opinion pieces that touch on wartime political conflicts and battles over how to handle the massive wave of displaced refugees. The Holocaust Museum’s research updates a longstanding assumption that all Americans were unaware of the genocide taking place until the war had ended. “History Unfolded” challenges beliefs about contemporary understanding of those tragedies and speaks to the media’s role in shaping public knowledge.
This page will be updated with new archival materials. You can also keep up with these updates by following The Digs on Instagram (@digspgh), where we will be sharing materials through posts and Stories.
The Dachau prison camp opens
The Dachau concentration camp opened on March 22, 1933, holding about 4,800 prisoners during its first year. The Nazis would not begin to open dedicated extermination centers until the war’s 1939 outbreak, but the Dachau prison camp served as a model for what was to come. Under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, SS police trained at the camp and created organizational systems that would drive Germany’s genocide of European Jews.
Himmler was never subtle about the camp’s purpose, openly acknowledging that it was built to house the Nazis’ political enemies. Chief among them were communists and labor organizers, groups Himmler claimed were sowing unrest across Germany. Following the 1935 passage of the Nuremberg Laws, those prisoners were joined by religious minorities, homosexuals and many other groups targeted by institutionalized persecution.
Prisoners underwent horrible medical experimentation and were often worked to death or starved. Mass executions, the smell of cremated corpses and abject misery were hallmarks of Dachau for its 12 years of operation. Camp records show that 206,206 prisoners moved through Dachau’s gates, which were emblazoned with the hollow words “Work makes one free.” Nearly 32,000 died across its 100 sub-camps, according to internal Nazi reports.
Included in the documents below is the initial coverage of Dachau’s opening. Page 1 shows the Post-Gazette’s full foreign affairs page from March 20, 1933, while page 2 shows that day’s brief article covering the German government’s announcement. Also included is an extensive April 7, 1933, analysis by H.E. Knickerbocker, one of the first American reporters to cover the Nazis’ pre-World War II political persecution.
“Among the 40,000 [people arrested so far] are men from every political party except the National Socialist and perhaps the German Nationalist … Any outspoken, aggressive Republican, and many who were neither outspoken nor aggressive, were liable to visitation,” Knickerbocker wrote.
“The German people are receiving their hazing now. They must be taught to obey, unquestioningly, uncritically. They must again become a soldier folk.”