An Exploration of Holocaust Archives: Perkins Library at Duke University

By Kristalyn Gill

Some people say you can only trust history when you hold, in your hands, a primary source or witness the event itself. However, I do not concur with this statement. For example, I have read numerous articles about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. I was not alive during the 1800s and have never been presented with artifacts from the murder, yet I hold Lincoln’s assassination to be a true, historical event. I have taken a similar stance with the Holocaust. Until our trip to Perkins Library at Duke University this week, I have never held any historical items from World War II or been able to physically sift through documents spanning across the last eighty years. I was able to study graphic images of the Nazi death camps’ victims and to view shocking panoramas of both the fully costumed Knights of the Ku Klux Klan on a local beach as well as the thousands of Nazi supporters at the 1926 Nuremburg rally. While pouring over these sources, I came across a letter written in London in 1939. I became completely absorbed by the content of the letter. The writer was a witness of the destruction of Jewish stores during Kristallnacht and gave an opinionated description of the Jewish population. He did not associate himself with the Nazis, but he saw the extermination of the Jews as a necessary action to regain Germany’s power and control the country. It was fascinating to read his words since I have heard Dr. Bassman describe the various public opinions of German citizens. It was at this moment that I began to more accurately assess the stance of the German public who supported Hitler.

Our trip to Duke University broadened my perspective on how the Holocaust was influenced by World War I, became international news, and continues to cause controversy in the present day and age. I highly enjoyed spending time with my peers researching a topic we are all passionate about. We rediscovered Holocaust history to be true by not only past knowledge put into our heads by Dr. Bassman but also by what we held in our hands and read with our eyes in Perkins Library. I support this trip and believe the entire Honors College would benefit from visiting these artifacts and have their minds stretched by studying the sheer horror of Holocaust and the colossal damage it has caused on our past, is inflicting on the present, and will transform the future.

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