Lessons to Learn from 'This Horrible History'; Neptune Beach Woman Behind Exhibition on Nazi 'Medicine'

By Fitzroy, Maggie | The Florida Times Union, January 22, 2011 | Go to article overview

Lessons to Learn from 'This Horrible History'; Neptune Beach Woman Behind Exhibition on Nazi 'Medicine'


Fitzroy, Maggie, The Florida Times Union


Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY

Some of the 1930s German film clips are strange and some are shocking.

On one video screen, anthropologists measure the heads, faces and hands of mountain villagers in Tibet. The villagers look puzzled and amused; the scientists look deadly serious.

On another screen, people with disabilities, skeleton thin from starvation, are loaded onto carts so they can be transported to a place where they'll be put to death.

And on another screen, Jewish men, women and children are forced into railroad cattle cars that will take them to a concentration camp. Among those in line are mothers gripping babies; everyone looks dazed and confused.

Those English-subtitled documentary footages, and more, are part of "Deadly Medicine, Creating the Master Race," an exhibition at the Jacksonville Main Library on Laura Street. Along with many enlarged still photos and explanatory panels, they tell the story of how a movement that began as a way to improve the health of German citizens evolved into a scientifically sanctioned campaign that murdered millions.

Neptune Beach resident Leslie Kirkwood, chairwoman of the Remembering for the Future Community Holocaust Initiative, helped bring the 2,000-square-foot U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum-produced exhibit to Jacksonville. Free and open to the public, it aims to educate people about the past. A free lecture series, which will explore present issues related to the exhibition themes, will begin Tuesday in various area locations.

Kirkwood urges Beaches residents to make the trip into Jacksonville to see the exhibit, even if they are familiar with the history of the Holocaust, the systematic state-sponsored persecution and murder of millions of Jews and others during the 1930s through World War II.

It spotlights how physicians, scientists and other highly educated professionals, who traditionally dealt with healing, helped the Nazis develop programs that targeted certain groups of people for what they rationalized was society's good.

It's "fascinating" because it's about "how the medical and scientific professions were corrupted, and became part of the Holocaust," Kirkwood said.

"A profession that was supposed to be there for human welfare was there for death and destruction. The doctors were involved in deciding who would live or die, and designing the systems that gave the most effective way to kill the most people."

Genocide is still going on in parts of the world, and "there is a lot we can do to eliminate hatred, discrimination and persecution," Kirkwood said.

She became involved with Holocaust history projects when the Public Broadcasting Service created a documentary on the Auschwitz concentration camp in 2004. They asked each PBS station in the country to develop an outreach program in conjunction with it, and friends of Kirkwood at the Jacksonville station asked her to get involved. After she was awarded a national grant, she put together a partnership that trains teachers, puts on exhibits and arranges for Holocaust survivors to speak at events.

In the past few years, Kirkwood's organization has sponsored other exhibitions at the Jacksonville library, including an art exhibit from the Florida Holocaust Museum and one called "Sala's Letters," based on the experiences of a slave labor camp survivor.

FIRST EXHIBIT IN FLORIDA

"Deadly Medicine" is the largest to date, and when it leaves Jacksonville after Sunday, March 13, it will go to the Harvard University Medical School, Kirkwood said. It's been traveling around the country for several years and this is its first time in Florida.

Kirkwood, who grew up in Jacksonville, has no immediate ties to the Holocaust. One grandparent was born in the United States, and three came from Eastern Europe before the war to escape from state-sponsored police actions targeting Jews with death and destruction of their homes and businesses. …

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