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Exhibition, presented by MCHE, explores how propaganda propelled Nazis into power

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum/National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.: Hermann Otto Hoyer, In the Beginning Was the Word, ca. 1937, German artist Hoyer depicted a quasi-messianic Hitler mesmerizing an audience with his oratory in the 1920s. The artwork’s title is from the opening line of the New Testament Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This and 400 other Nazi-era artworks still considered politically charged remain in the U.S. Army’s custody today.

The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education is bringing to Kansas City yet another world-class exhibition. State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, a thought-provoking exploration of Nazi propaganda that challenges visitors to think critically about the messages they receive today, opens here Tuesday, June 24, and continues through Oct. 25. The free exhibition, produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will be at the National Archives at Kansas City, located at 400 W. Pershing Road in Kansas City, Mo., just west of Union Station. 

Jean Zeldin, MCHE’s executive director, said the exhibition, co-chaired in Kansas City by Karen and Mike Herman and David and Rachel Sosland, is very powerful and has meaning in the context of today’s world.

“Propaganda didn’t originate with the Nazis and it didn’t end with the Nazis. We’re constantly bombarded with messages and we need to be able to determine which ones are valid. We also need to be able to recognize propaganda and the power that it has,” said Zeldin, who recently celebrated her 20th anniversary with the organization. 

“It’s easy to discount the impact of propaganda, especially if you recognize it. But for those people who don’t recognize it, this exhibit illustrates the effect it can have on an educated population especially when it’s institutionalized by the government and when the government has control of the media.”

A special benefit preview event will take place on Monday, June 23, at the National Archives. Reservations for the event, which features a special presentation by Steven Luckert, the exhibition’s curator, are still available. For more information regarding patron levels, contact MCHE at 913-327-8192.

The exhibition will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Docent-led group tours, scheduled to last 45 minutes to an hour, begin July 1. The first of eight free programs in a Wednesday Evening Speaker Series will be held July 9. A workshop for teachers is also schedule for June 24-26.

Zeldin is thrilled MCHE is hosting “State of Deception” and notes it is the third USHMM traveling exhibition it has brought here. In 2006 MCHE presented The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 and four years later, in 2010, it presented Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. Zeldin believes Kansas City is a preferred site for these exhibitions because MCHE has developed a great working relationship with USHMM and has proven it offers high caliber programming to accompany the exhibitions.

“USHMM knows that we don’t just put up the exhibit and that’s the end of it. They know that we use it as a teaching resource for students and adults, that we plan public programs in conjunction with the exhibit,” she said. “I think more than anything it speaks to the relationship we’ve developed with the Holocaust Museum. They feel comfortable and confident that we would put the exhibition to its greatest use, promote it, enhance it and value it.”

Kansas City is just the third city to host this traveling exhibition, and only the second to get it with all its artifacts, which won’t travel with the exhibit the entire time. It opened in November at the Field Museum in Chicago and it closed on Sunday in Phoenix. St. Louis is also on the list of cities to host and will have it in the spring of 2015. 

It’s important to note that the speaker series will be held at the National World War I Museum, not at the National Archives where the exhibition is on display. However, exhibition viewing and light receptions will be available at the National Archives from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on those evenings. 

Holding the speaker series at the National World War I Museum carries special significance.

The speaker series isn’t taking place at the World War I Museum by sheer coincidence.

“Adolf Hitler was an avid student of propaganda and borrowed techniques from the Allies in World War I, his Socialist and Communist rivals, the Italian Fascist Party, as well as modern advertising,” said exhibition curator Steven Luckert. “Drawing upon these models, he successfully marketed the Nazi Party, its ideology, and himself to the German people.”

“The connection is that negative propaganda really began in World War I,” Zeldin said. “The museum actually has its own collection of propaganda posters.”

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Randall Bytwerk: Hitler over Germany. Cover image from Nazi Party political pamphlet that detailed Hitler’s 1932 election campaign for president. Josef Berchtold, Hitler über Deutschland (Hitler over Germany), 1932.

This is the second time MCHE is partnering with the National Archives, which also served as the host venue for Deadly Medicine.

“The relationship itself was such a positive experience and it drew 9,000 visitors to the National Archives. We immediately talked about what we could do next,” Zeldin said.

The message this exhibition sends and the lessons this exhibition teaches, Zeldin said, have always been important. But she thinks attendance might be enhanced because of the recent tragedy the community suffered.

“I think the audiences will see connections that they may not have understood before,” she said. 

Zeldin said this exhibition is appropriate for students and adults, middle school and older. Unlike the Deadly Medicine exhibition, State of Deception is not graphic. She noted it doesn’t focus on the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“It’s about the path to the Holocaust rather than the process,” she explained.

“I still wouldn’t recommend it for younger children. There is one panel that is graphic. The rest of it is explanatory rather than graphic. The shock value is not going to lie in seeing pictures of concentration camps. Rather it’s going to be in understanding how pervasive the Nazis’ message was.”

Zeldin hopes the exhibition will provide meaning for people who see it and that it will encourage critical thinking.

“Another lesson that comes from the exhibition is how fragile democracy is. The results can be tragic if we aren’t careful and we blindly accept everything that is told to us, or if we don’t challenge the lies and misconceptions when we read them or hear them.”

MCHE is also bringing another, separate exhibit of anti-Semitic postcards here. The exhibit, from Queensborough Community College, will be displayed in a small gallery at the National Archives by July 23 and will remain on there until State of Deception closes Oct. 25.

“The postcards mostly pre-date the Holocaust, but it gives people an idea of what the culture was in terms of pre-existing anti-Semitism,” Zeldin said.