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What did Virginia newspapers report about Nazi persecution during the 1930s and 1940s? There is a misconception that Americans did not know about the Holocaust as it was happening, but many facts were reported through daily newspapers.

Early in 2020, the Library of Virginia began planning a series of “research sprints” with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) for their History Unfolded project. This project is organized around specific events that were likely to be covered in American newspapers. Members of the public, sometimes called citizen archivists or historians, search newspapers for articles related to these events and upload them to the site. USHMM staff review each submission. Like other crowdsourcing initiatives, such as Making History: Transcribe or From the Page, History Unfolded engages the public to make historical resources more findable and usable. By identifying Holocaust-related articles in Virginia newspapers, we will begin to understand what the average Virginian could have known during WWII.

As with all things during the pandemic, our plans had to be adapted to prioritize public health. What was originally planned as an on-site excursion into the Library’s microfilmed newspapers shifted to using online newspaper databases and Zoom videoconferencing. For our first research sprint, we selected the Newspaper Archive database and two specific papers, the Southwest Times and the Danville Bee. Unlike some of the larger newspapers in Virginia, these had not yet been investigated for Holocaust-related content.

To prepare, our volunteers registered for accounts with both the Library of Virginia and History Unfolded. We met virtually via Zoom on Saturday, July 25. David Klevan and Eric Schmalz from the Holocaust Memorial Museum gave an overview of the History Unfolded project. Kelley Ewing from the Library of Virginia demonstrated how to access Newspaper Archive with an LVA account and search for specific newspapers. Megan Ferenczy from the Virginia Holocaust Museum shared the incredible story of how William Thalhimer, owner of the department store, helped young Jewish people flee Nazi persecution and offered agricultural training at a farm outside Burkeville in Nottoway County. Following the presentations, volunteers began searching the newspapers.

History Unfolded received 22 submissions during the research sprint from the Danville Bee and the Southwest Times. Later that day, an additional seven articles were submitted from the Bee, Southwest Times, Recorder, and Rappahannock Record. Review by the Holocaust Memorial Museum is still underway, but they so far have approved 25 articles from 13 different participants. Five articles have already been published from the Southwest Times, making those submissions some of the first entries in the History Unfolded database from the southwest region of Virginia.

Though the research sprint took a different form than we had originally planned, hosting it online allowed people throughout Virginia to participate. Our 23 attendees hailed from Ashville, Chesterfield, Henrico, Manassas, Mechanicsville, Stafford, and Richmond and participated from the comfort and safety of their homes. Several of the volunteers from our research sprint have continued to submit articles to History Unfolded in the weeks since the event.

Want to help? Join us at the two upcoming research sprints on Sept. 26 and Nov. 21. Registration is through HandsOn Greater Richmond, a hub for local volunteer opportunities.

Header image citation

“Hungarian Jewish Girls, Eschvege.” Alan Golub Records, c1940s, Profiles of Honor Digital Collection, Library of Virginia. Lent for scanning by Alan Golub, for Profiles of Honor Tour, Virginia Beach, Virginia, May 17, 2017.

Sonya Coleman

Digital Engagement Coordinator

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