Texas Tech Museum’s executive director Gary Morgan says the new “Texas Liberator: Witness to the Holocaust” exhibit gives a side of the war usually presented by generals, presidents and those in power.
“This exhibit looks much more at the impacts on those servicemen, those Texans when they came into those concentration camps and saw what can only be described as hell on earth,” he says.
After years of preparation by Texas Tech students and faculty, the entire project consists of an interactive app for use in schools, a website, a coffee-table-type book to be published later this year by Texas Tech University Press, and the exhibit, which runs until December.
The entire project was made possible through the financial support of and the university’s collaboration with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.
Aliza Wong, an associate professor of history and associate dean of the university’s honors college, spearheaded the four-pronged effort with the commission. She says these Texas soldiers, some from rural parts of the state, were horrified at what they saw.
“When they were young men and shipped across the ocean to fight during the second world war, they knew they were fighting for freedom and democracy—and other buzzwords that we use in order to encourage spirit, verve and patriotism," Wong says. "But when they entered into these different camps, they had no idea what they were going to come across."
The project contains audio recordings of interviews with many of the soldiers done by the Institute for Oral History at Baylor University, after the Texas holocaust group commissioned them.
Wong says that, Ben Love, an Air Force pilot, revealed that liberating those in Mauthausen Concentration Camp changed him forever. Love was a well-known Houston banker and philanthropist who died in 2006. Love’s interview and one other were conducted by the Holocaust Museum Houston.
“I had not talked about this before, but what I saw, inspired me to live a life of integrity and of compassion. This fundamentally changed every person who came out of it,” she says.
Throughout the project, haunting images and words draw you in.
The narration at the beginning of a short film in the app asks rhetorically, “Do you ever wonder where horrible things begin?” The narrator goes on to provide historical background about factors that led to the Second World War, stating, “The unimaginable emerges slowly, like a hungry death.”
The museum exhibit includes a wall with an Honor Roll, listing more than 300 Texas soldiers who helped liberate concentration camps run by the Nazis.
Stories from 21 US soldiers from Texas are told in the exhibit, the app and the website. The book, too, will contain their stories. In each, there are raw emotion from these men who saw horrors many before this project never spoke of to their wives or families.
“When they finally tell their stories, they don’t ask to be remembered as war heroes, they ask us to remember and to witness with them what they saw at the liberation of those camps,” Wong explains.
Beyond just a telling of unfathomable cruelties meted out by Nazis, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, Wong says, seeks to prevent another holocaust.
“I truly believe that one of the things we need to do in order to prevent these things from happening again," Wong says, "is to learn, is to educate, is to really understand the devastation—the kind of human cruelty that we are capable of.”
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