It was in late March 81 years ago that the Dachau Concentration Camp—the first such camp to be established in Nazi Germany—first opened, interning almost 200,000 male prisoners from all over Europe during the course of its existence. For two weeks later this month, a traveling exhibition in Olin Library will showcase some of their personal histories, allowing the Washington University community to connect more closely with an important moment in history.
Titled "Names Instead of Numbers," the exhibition is composed of banners highlighting the individual biographies of 22 of these men, detailing their lives both before and after imprisonment. On display from March 14 to 28 on the first floor of Olin Library, it also offers information about the history of the Dachau camp and the ongoing, international Remembrance Book Project.
Erin McGlothlin, an associate professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and in the Department of Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, notes that nearly three-quarters of a century have passed since the end of World War II and the Holocaust, and the traumatic events of that period often seem to contemporary generations to be more like myth.
"When we hear the numbers of civilians who perished at the hands of the Nazis—six million Jews, 200,000 Roma and Sinti, five million civilians of occupied countries, political prisoners and homosexuals—it becomes even harder to fathom the nature of the catastrophic crimes of Nazism," McGlothlin says. "'Names Instead of Numbers' allows us to get past the cold numbers—both the almost unimaginable number of those who perished at the hands of the Nazis and the identification numbers that replaced the names and identities of prisoners in concentration camps—by giving us an up-close view of these men and their lives."
"Names Instead of Numbers" coincides with a public symposium, Crossing the Disciplinary Divide: Conjunctions in German and Holocaust Studies, being held on campus March 20 to 22. Featuring prominent researchers from across the United States and Europe, the symposium will explore how the field of German studies engages with Holocaust memory and representation and the issues of canonization raised by such inquiry. McGlothlin and her colleague Jennifer Kapczynski, associate professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures, are co-organizers of the event.
The banners will be displayed in the Grand Staircase Lobby and Ginkgo Reading Room on Level 1 and other nearby locations in Olin Library, with accompanying catalogs available for $7 at the Campus Store. For more information about "Names Instead of Numbers," contact librarian Brian Vetruba.