"Examining American Responses to the Holocaust: Digital Possibilities" October 12-15, 2021

2021 Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project (MHCP) Conference:

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum  - logo

Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

October 12-15, 2021

Live-Streaming Schedule:

Tuesday, October 12, 10:00 a.m.

"Non-Governmental Organizations (Rescue/Relief) During and Immediately After WWII" Moderator: Anat Kutner Presenters: Ron Coleman, Isabelle Rohr, Ludwig Decke, Roman Vater, Abby Gondek LINK:

This panel focuses on four different non-governmental agencies which provided relief and rescue for refugees during the Holocaust: the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), American Friends Service Committee, American Jewish Committee, and the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation.

Researchers and archivists will discuss how and where materials can be accessed and how these specific materials have been used in existing research projects. These presentations will explore questions and themes such as: coordination and conflict between organizations, the benefits of using the records of multiple aid groups, the unique materials provided by each organization, and organizational stances in relation to Zionism and anti-Zionism, especially in the post-war period.

Paper Titles and Presenters:

  • Refugee Assistance Case Files: New Sources, New Approaches, New Stories (American Friends Service Committee) Ron Coleman Chief of Library (Acting), United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Download abstract: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hzWf...
  • A Unique Chapter: JDC and the War Refugee Board Isabelle Rohr Manager of Academic Programs and Outreach, JDC Archives (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) Download abstract: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Z-bw...
  • Exploring Jewish Postwar Visions during the Holocaust: The Case of the American Jewish Committee Ludwig Decke PhD student, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison Download abstract: https://drive.google.com/file/d/10upa...
  • The Hebrew Committee of National Liberation: from Rescue to Post-Zionism Roman Vater Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge Download abstract: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WgU5...
  • The Relationship of the Materials in the FDR Library’s Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project to NGOs providing relief and rescue Abby Gondek Morgenthau Scholar in Residence, FDR Presidential Library and Museum and Roosevelt Institute

Anat Kutner Director, JDC Jerusalem Archives

Tuesday, October 12, 1:00 p.m.

"Myths and Realities of American Responses to the Holocaust, 1938-1945" Moderator: Barry Trachtenberg Presenters: Richard Breitman, Rebecca Erbelding, Meredith Hindley LINK:

Public understanding of American response(s) to the Holocaust is rife with myths and misconceptions, from the idea that the American public had no access to information about the Holocaust to the belief that the United States government willfully ignored mass murder as it was happening.

In this roundtable, three scholars of American history will debate and discuss some of these myths, as well as welcoming audience questions for discussion.

The historians will also provide brief presentations addressing myths that their research has helped to dispel.

Richard Breitman, professor emeritus at American University and author of numerous books including FDR and the Jews and The Berlin Mission, will discuss the American government's reaction to the Kristallnacht attacks of 1938, arguing that the FDR administration's reaction was stronger than most believe.
Rebecca Erbelding, historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and author of Rescue Board, will examine the physical realties of Jewish immigration and the dramatic effect of World War II on the opportunities of refugees to escape.
Meredith Hindley, the author of Destination Casablanca, will explore the case study of Casablanca as a locus for the Jewish refugee community following the German invasion of France in 1940.

Paper Titles and Presenters:

  • U.S. Reaction to Kristallnacht Now and Then Richard Breitman Emeritus Professor, American University
  • “The Last Boat:” The Impact of the Encroaching War on Refugee Immigration to the United States, 1938-1941 Rebecca Erbelding Curator/Archivist, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Everybody Comes to Casablanca Meredith Hindley Historian

Download session abstract:

Moderator: Barry Trachtenberg Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History and Director of Jewish Studies Program, Wake Forest University

Wednesday, October 13, 10:00 a.m.

"Forced Academic Migration of Refugee Scholars" Moderator: Rachel Deblinger Presenters: Stefanie Mahrer, Sinja Clavadetscher, Stefanie Salvisberg, Laurel Leff, John Wihbey LINK:

This panel is made up of two groups of scholars who are working on the topic of forced academic migration of refugee scholars using digital technologies (such as nodegoat) to visualize geographic, chronological and biographical trajectories of migration.

Content-based thematic intersections between the two projects include: individual and comparative biographies of refugee scholars based on different national contexts and multiple migrations, the impact of gender on the refugee scholar experience, the different outcomes for those who managed to escape Europe, and the reasons for acceptance or rejection from Swiss and U.S. universities.

Some of the overlapping themes related to methodological concerns include: accessing sources (archival or digital), lack of digitization of archival materials, creating databases, inputting data on a large scale, collaboration with multiple partners to create databases and visualizations, how to visualize data geographically, chronologically, and biographically, the constraints of working with large datasets, and the benefits of case studies focusing on smaller datasets.

The digital technologies utilized enable the visualization of individual histories as well as the social, institutional, national, transnational, and historical context in which these scholars were forced to migrate.

These projects highlight the vulnerable place of scholars within repressive or conflict-torn societies, and thus provide powerful, contemporary lessons for human rights efforts and asylum and immigration policies.

Project websites can be accessed here:

Paper titles and Presenters:

  • Forced Academic Migration (FAM) – A Digital Approach FAM.online Stefanie Mahrer SNF-PRIMA Professor for Modern European, Swiss, and Jewish History University of Bern, Switzerland
  • The Role of Aid Organizations in the Migration of Refugee Academics to the US Sinja Clavadetscher PhD Student, University of Bern, Switzerland
  • Germany, Switzerland, USA – Patterns of Multiple Migration of Expelled Jewish Academics Stefanie Salvisberg PhD student, University of Bern, Switzerland Download abstract:
  • Rediscovering Refugee Scholars Laurel Leff Professor of Journalism/Associate Director of Jewish Studies, Northeastern University John Wihbey Associate Professor, School of Journalism, Northeastern University Download abstract:

Moderator: Rachel Deblinger Director, Modern Endangered Archives Program, UCLA Library

Wednesday, October 13, 1:00 p.m.

"The Last Mission – FDR, Ibn Saud and the Question of Israel" Moderator: Paul Sparrow Presenter: David Woolner LINK:

FDR’s interest in Palestine constitutes one aspect of his long-standing and controversial relationship with the Jews. His harshest critics have assailed him for not doing more to help German Jewish refugees escape persecution; some even accuse him and his administration of complicity in the Holocaust. Whatever his failures on the question of Jewish immigration to America, FDR took an active interest in the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This brought the president head-to-head with the British government.


David Woolner
Professor, Senior Fellow, Marist College, Roosevelt Institute

Download abstract:

Paul Sparrow
Director, FDR Presidential Library and Museum

Thursday, October 14, 10:00 a.m.

"New Intersections – Holocaust Studies & Digital Humanities" Moderators: Michael Haley Goldman, Michael R. Levy Presenters: Abby Gondek, Richard Marciano, William Underwood, Teddy Randby LINK:

Co-moderated by two USHMM Directors: the Director of Future Projects and the Director of Digital Assets Management and Preservation, the panel comprised of a Holocaust Studies Scholar, Digital Archives Specialists, and Technologists, will introduce new directions of digital scholarship in Holocaust Studies that have the potential to significantly improve researcher access.

We will introduce concepts behind computational technologies and illustrate them with concrete examples from the Morgenthau Diaries Collection. These include Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Digital Curation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP), Crowdsourcing, Machine Learning (ML), Document type recognition, Faceted search, Scholarly editing, and Linking content across the web. The panel is both standalone and serves as an introduction to a more detailed interactive workshop in the afternoon.

Panel Members:

  • Richard Marciano Director, Advanced Information Collaboratory (AIC), University of Maryland
  • William Underwood Research Scientist, Advanced Information Collaboratory (AIC), University of Maryland
  • Teddy Randby Research Fellow, Advanced Information Collaboratory, University North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Abby Gondek Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence, Roosevelt Institute, FDR Presidential Library and Museum


  • Michael Haley Goldman Executive Director, New Hampshire Humanities; formerly Director of Future Projects, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Michael R. Levy Director Digital Assets Management and Preservation, National Institute for Holocaust Documentation, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Friday, October 15, 10:00 a.m.

"NARA and FDR Library Holocaust Resources" Moderator: Kirsten Carter Presenters: Jeff Urbin, Sylvia Naylor, Nikola Zimring, Abby Gondek LINK:

This session will introduce audience members to the FDR library and NARA collections related to the Holocaust (with a focus on American Responses), including educational resources, digital humanities projects using the Morgenthau Diaries and War Refugee Board Papers, the development of the Vrba Papers, and the WWII War Crimes records at the National Archives.

Paper Titles and Presenters:

  • Nuremberg: Civic Education as a Safeguard to Never Again Jeff Urbin Education Specialist, FDR Presidential Library and Museum
  • Digital Humanities and the Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project Abby Gondek Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence, Roosevelt Institute, FDR Presidential Library and Museum
  • The Significance of the Rudolf Vrba Collection Nikola Zimring PhD Student, New York University at the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies
  • World War II War Crimes Records and Resources at the National Archives at College Park, MD Sylvia Naylor Archivist, Subject Matter Expert for Holocaust-related records, National Archives and Records Administration

Access session abstracts here:

Kirsten Carter Supervisory Archivist, FDR Presidential Library and Museum

Friday, October 15, 3:00 p.m.

"Auschwitz – What We Know Now, What We Knew Then" Moderator: Paul Sparrow Presenter: Michael Berenbaum LINK:

Michael Berenbaum examines the factual accuracy of Elie Wiesel’s account (in his memoir, All Rivers Run to the Sea) of a conversation with President Jimmy Carter about aerial photographs of Birkenau. Taken in 1944 and showing evidence of the gas chambers, the images were not developed until 1977. Referencing memos from the time, Berenbaum questions Wiesel’s depiction of the conversation – that President Carter admitted these aerial photographs had been available to FDR in 1944, and the President knew “what was going on in Auschwitz” and “nevertheless he did nothing” – asserting that both men would have been aware that the photos were not developed until the later date. He further examines why Weisel might have altered the facts.

Michael Berenbaum Director, Sigi Ziering Institute, Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University

Paul Sparrow Director, FDR Presidential Library and Museum