ECC exhibit tells stories of lesser-known Holocaust victims

  • A traveling Holocaust exhibit at Elgin Community College chronicles stories of persecution and the struggles of Jehovah's Witnesses under Nazi rule in Europe.

    A traveling Holocaust exhibit at Elgin Community College chronicles stories of persecution and the struggles of Jehovah's Witnesses under Nazi rule in Europe. Courtesy of Elgin Community College

  • A Holocaust exhibit at Elgin Community College chronicling the struggles of Jehovah's Witnesses under Nazi rule in Europe is open for public viewing during campus hours through Nov. 27.

    A Holocaust exhibit at Elgin Community College chronicling the struggles of Jehovah's Witnesses under Nazi rule in Europe is open for public viewing during campus hours through Nov. 27. Courtesy of Elgin Community College

 
 
Updated 11/8/2019 4:06 PM

When remembering the Holocaust, what immediately comes to mind is the genocide of six million Jewish people killed across Europe by the fascist Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.

But there were an estimated five million non-Jewish people also killed by the Nazis for their race, beliefs or occupation during World War II.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A traveling Holocaust exhibit at Elgin Community College aims to shed light on a lesser-known group of victims -- Jehovah's Witnesses.

"Jehovah's Witnesses: Faith Under Fire" is on display through Nov. 29 in Building B of the Elgin college, 1700 Spartan Drive.

Created by the Arnold-Liebster Foundation, the exhibit highlights the relatively unknown stories of persecution endured by that faith community in Nazi-occupied Europe. Among them is the story of 89-year-old Holocaust survivor and foundation co-founder Simone Arnold Liebster of France.

A Jehovah's Witness, Arnold Liebster was 12 when she was sent to a Nazi re-education camp for refusing to hail Hitler at her girls' school. She was held in the camp for two years, while her parents were sent to concentration camps.

ECC assistant English professor Ginger Alms was inspired to bring the exhibit to the college after her students read Arnold Liebster's memoir and Alms came across the foundation's work to chronicle the struggles of these lesser-known Holocaust victims.

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"It's little-known history and I was really inspired by Simone," Alms said.

The exhibit features 12 story panels with information and images about the conditions faced by Jehovah's Witnesses during that period. It's a replica of an exhibit designed for the Holocaust museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, said Greg Milakovich, a foundation representative.

"We highlighted four things that make the experiences of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany significant to understand," Milakovich said.

• They refused to hail Hitler and their religion was banned.

• They were put in concentration camps as early as 1934.

• They were identified with their own insignia -- a purple triangle -- on their camp uniforms.

• They were asked to sign a declaration renouncing their faith and denouncing other members of the religion, and join the German military.

Jehovah's Witnesses raised many red flags in the early days of Hitler's rise by speaking out against Nazism, documenting and reporting the existence of and conditions within concentration camps, and distributing literature about it, Milakovich said.

They published diagrams of camps and smuggled information about them to the outside world, raising the alarm about poison gas experiments and the systematic destruction of Jews in Poland. Jehovah's Witnesses distributed more than 200,000 leaflets during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

"Germany was on display in all of its glory, but it was a front because all these things were going on," Milakovich said.

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