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Urgent History: Hollywood’s Past and the Future of Human Rights

Since Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare opened many local colleges have assigned students to view and respond to the exhibit. At the Museum, we generally do not get to read their responses, so the staff was delighted when UW-Milwaukee History Professor Christine Evans shared this piece written by Ph.D. candidate Zach Anderson reflecting on his experience in Blacklist.

Urgent History: Hollywood’s Past and the Future of Human Rights
Response to a History-Related Event by Zach Anderson

November 2018

Upon arrival to the Jewish Museum dsc0801-version-2Milwaukee’s exhibit titled Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare, I am led to a seat in a makeshift cinema. A sleek, digital, (mostly) black-and-white animation – about 7 or 8 minutes long – provides an extremely condensed introduction to the political debates surrounding World War II, the “Red Scare,” and the Cold War. Simultaneously, this animation intertwines a brief history of visual media, including claims about cinema-escapism during the Great Depression, the government’s involvement in propagandistic filmmaking during the war, and the eventual Hollywood Blacklist. Because the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) clearly overlaps these political and cinematic histories, the film concludes its linear narrative with HUAC’s formal termination in 1975.

dsc0801-version-2Initially, there seems to be a tension in this video: the animated film’s flashy style and engaging soundtrack appeal directly to the viewers’ present sensibilities, while its chronological narrative’s abrupt conclusion seems to isolate these events in the distant, black-and-white past. However, this tension does not last long. After walking away from the pseudo-theatre, many museum displays counter my initial assumptions that the issues raised by the film concluded with HUAC’s termination in the mid-1970s.

The museum displays – which frequently involve archival evidence such as photographs, employment documents, trade magazines, etc. – explicitly force attendees to consider the Blacklist’s connection to today’s political climate. One display suggests that “as you are exploring this exhibit, consider the following ideas: How should the government balance security and civil liberties? What parallels can be found between this time and others…?” Nearby, additional prompts force me to connect my own thoughts about various archival photographs and primary documents to my present situation. For example, a photograph of mild protests raised by many Hollywood actors and filmmakers – Bogart, Bacall, Huston, etc. – is followed by an unambiguous question related to the present: “Does celebrity interest change the way we understand an issue?”

dsc0801-version-2Other displays are a bit subtler about their connections to contemporary debates. For example, there are many references to Ayn Rand’s role in the Blacklist, including her development of the “Screen Guide for Americans.” Rand’s own celebrity status among many neo-Conservatives – a group that likely still agrees with the Screen Guide’s warnings against films that “smear the profit motive” or “glorify failure” – clearly relates to today’s political culture, even if the connection remains implicit.

Despite some displays’ implicit connections to the present, though, the exhibit’s most explicit examples frame the entire experience in relation to today’s urgent, political debates. For example, under biographies of individuals fired for their perceived political beliefs, a caption asks: “Should political stances be a consideration for employment decisions? Are there any contemporary examples?” Even when these questions remain more implicit (as in the Ayn Rand example), the exhibit has already prepared me to ask myself direct questions about the present.

dsc0801-version-2One prominent display, which seems to most overtly define the exhibit’s argument, explains that the Hollywood Blacklist should be understood as one illustration of the larger Red Scare. After experiencing the full exhibit, however, I believe the overarching argument is much broader: the Hollywood Blacklist should be understood as one example of always-present restrictions – and struggles for – human rights. In other words, the exhibit appeals to guests (like me) that are deeply interested in the history of Hollywood, but cinema, stardom, and the Hollywood Blacklist are simply the lens through which these exhibitors have chosen to explore an urgent political question: why would a society accept the systematic restriction of human rights – and how can these abuses be resisted?

The initial animation concluded with HUAC’s termination in 1975. Near the end of the exhibit, there are additional hints at closure, especially in descriptions of formerly-Blacklisted men and women returning to work in various film-related positions. On the surface, these elements seem to characterize the exhibit’s history as one driven by progress – and perhaps even a history that “concluded” decades ago. Yet, while the animation and overall exhibit do often present a linear timeline of events, there are many prominent attempts to frame this history and its thematic questions in ways that resist narratives of progress and directly relate these issues to present debates about human rights.

dsc0801-version-2By placing this exhibit within a Jewish museum and frequently emphasizing the Jewish experiences of the Hollywood Blacklist, these historical struggles for human rights are unquestionably positioned within a wider discourse about (ongoing) anti-Semitism. However, the exhibit does not only position Jews as victims of the Blacklist. Under a section titled “The Jewish Response,” text points out a contradiction: many Jews, including Jewish lawyers, stood up for certain human rights, while paradoxically many Jewish organizations also systematically kicked out perceived communists. The exhibit draws clear connections between HUAC and anti-Semitism but refuses simplistic dichotomies between heroes and villains. Instead, the exhibit’s overarching argument about the ever-present fight for the protection of human rights implicates all attendees and invites everyone to consider their own role in this struggle.

Blacklisted in a Click by Gene Policinski

On October 11, 2018, Jewish Museum Milwaukee opened Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare with a Premiere featuring Gene Policinski, one of the most eminent journalists on First Amendment Rights, a founder of USA Today, and President and COO of the Freedom Forum Institute. Policinski delivered the following remarks that evening.

Blacklisted in a Click

Good evening.  Thank you to George Stanley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who contacted me about speaking tonight. And of course, thanks also to the Museum and to Patti Sherman-Cisler in particular for inviting me, and congratulations to those of you who have helped support and create this marvelous exhibit, “Blacklist: the Hollywood Red Scare.”

On behalf of my colleagues at the Freedom Forum Institute and at the Newseum, and myself, let me say we are honored by this invitation to have a conversation with you tonight.

I do mean for this to be a conversation, not a lecture – even if I do get to talk first.  As a journalist and as my current job focused on our First Amendment freedoms – religion, speech, press, assembly and petition – leads me to begin, I’d like to start with a bit of context.

The online description of the exhibit, in terms of context, gets it exactly right.  The exhibit and my remarks tonight will, I hope, ultimately be an examination of how our nation has responded – and will respond in the future – to “the shifting definition of what it meant and what it means to be a patriotic American.”


When the concept of the United States was first advanced, that meaning rested on terms like “Revolutionaries, Continentals, Colonials, Rebels and Yankees” in opposition to “Loyalists, Royalists, King’s Men, or Tories.” Later, our nation would redefine patriots as those loyal to particular political parties, certain religious beliefs.

We would split into Union and Confederate (Yankee and Reb) during the Civil War.  A final push to subjugate Native Americans would put a new spin on patriotism – or perhaps better put, a lasting stain on the term.

In the early 1900s, a patriot often could describe what today we would call a “nativist” – that is, someone by my definition, could ignore their own immigrant heritage while decrying that of more-recent arrivals in the United States.

Notice a theme here – one of two I want to identify at the outset. We don’t associate the term “blacklist” with those markers in time, but each has that fundamental quality necessary for a blacklist – using terms and methods to identify a particular group declared unacceptable, undesirable and ultimately, not patriotic.

Moving into the 20th Century, we made the “blacklist” process more formal and established in law. Union organizers, union members, social critics, suffragettes, civil rights advocates – from Jim Crow laws to incarceration in prisons and mental hospitals – were targeted.

The Espionage Act of 1917 and companion government policies sought to identify those who were “enemies of the people” – and I do not use that phrase lightly – and harass, imprison or deport those deemed unacceptable by government or a powerful segment of society that had access to the controls of government.

The Red Scare of the early 1920s, in response to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia coupled with the cynicism of the Western World following the slaughter of millions in WWI, resulted in two waves of what are known as the Palmer Raids, supposedly aimed at “leftist radicals and anarchists,” organized by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer with assistance from a young J. Edgar Hoover.

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: “You’re not paranoid if they really are after you.”

The Sedition Act of 1918, which was an expansion of the 1917 Espionage Act, was a direct result of the paranoia. Targeting those who criticized the government, the Sedition Act set into motion an effort to monitor radicals, especially labor union leaders, with the threat of deportation looming in the background. That threat was an all-too-real demonstration of the origin of the term, which I believe rests in the middle-1600s in England – literally lists of those to be killed in retribution for opposition to the monarchy.

Police raided education centers, thought to be the “vile dens” as one historian noted, of intellectuals, immigrants and anarchists disillusioned with the United States. In one instance, in New York, it seems that an adult algebra class was interrupted by armed agents, with the teacher being beaten. The detained were ordered to hand over their money to agents, who were then directed to tear the place apart after arresting the students.

dsc0801-version-2Dragged and shoved into patrol wagons and taken into custody, agents searched among the detainees for members of the Union of Russian Workers. The questioning that followed revealed that only 39 of the people arrested had anything to do with the union.

One thousand people were arrested in 11 cities in the Palmer Raids – only to see 75% released without charges. In Hartford, Connecticut, 100 men were held for five months, during which time they weren’t allowed lawyers and were not informed of the charges.

Many of the alleged Communist sympathizers that were rounded up were deported in December 1919. The boat utilized for this, the USAT Buford, was nicknamed the “Soviet Ark” and the “Red Ark”. A total of 249 radicals were deported aboard the ship, including the ardent socialist Emma Goldman. I would have named the ship “The Blacklist.”

It’s worth noting that the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, was created in 1920 as a direct result of the Palmer Raids – as a reorganized group of what had been called the National Civil Liberties Bureau – and its first action was a challenge of the Sedition Act.

dsc0801-version-2The tactics of those who would blacklist got a trial run in this era.  Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis F. Post joined critics after reviewing deportation cases. He invalidated well over 1,500 deportation orders.  Palmer’s Congressional allies tried to impeach Post – questioning his patriotism – but through a free press, Post was able to publicly outline Palmer’s abuses.

When a predicted May 1, 1920, armed Communist uprising failed to come about, Palmer’s star fell into decline. But his tactics and the congressional technique of challenging the patriotism of opponents was set out.

The exhibit that brings us here tonight examines the era of the Hollywood Blacklist in far greater thoroughness than I could ever aim to do here … but it does bring us to the second “theme” to touch on tonight: Fear.

As your exhibit makes very clear, those behind the Hollywood Blacklist and the entire McCarthy era used fear as a driving force, a divisive tool and a coercive means to their ends.

One needs only to see the movies, magazines and tactics that your exhibit highlights, the destruction of personal and professional reputations, the sinister use of anonymous accusers and demonizing of “the other” to get a sense of the chill this era brought over the “Land of the Free.”

Fear remains a powerful motivator. Our most recent election cycles show that. In our own annual State of the First Amendment surveys, we generally find less than 20% of us in any given year think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.  But some months after the 9/11 attack, in early 2002, fully 49% of us said that. In the years that followed, the percentage slid back to traditional levels. Then came the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 – and the number within a few months zoomed back up to nearly 40%.

The lesson throughout is that fear can cause us to lose sight of our core freedoms and what they mean to our nation. And in the Internet Age that sight – our attention span as individuals and as a nation – now moves at a speed unheard of in earlier generations.

dsc0801-version-2It took months in the 1950s – the back and forth of congressional hearings, passed along rumors and whispers, and the circulation of a scurrilous publication, “Red Channels,” on June 22, 1950 for the forces of fear to implement their blacklist.

The magazine subtitled “The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television” was distributed to network executives along Madison Avenue by the group “Counterattack.” As an NPR report in 2010 would note, “There seemed to be something a little dirty about it from the start.  Some executives wouldn’t even admit to having seen a copy. But ‘Red Channels’ was soon the most public secret in the industry.”

The blacklisting era would include the now-infamous hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee and – of course – Sen. Joseph McCarthy (Republican of Wisconsin.) Through the mid-and-late 1950s, Hollywood writers, movie and early TV stars, and others in government and industry would be tarred by “Red Channels,” HUAC, McCarthy and others.

As we know, some writers simply wrote scripts and screenplays under other’s names or pseudonyms.

John Henry Faulk sued AWARE in 1957, one of several organizations circulating the names of supposed left-wing artists in the film industry. Alfred Hitchcock hired blacklisted actor Norman Lloyd as an associate producer for the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, that same year. In 1960, director Otto Preminger announced blacklisted Dalton Trumbo as the screenwriter of his film Exodus; and Kirk Douglas in that same year insisted that Universal Pictures list Trumbo as the screenwriter of that epic film Spartacus.

Frankly, we’ve gone through a time in which many say such a “blacklist” atrocity could not occur again – as if the crudity, incivility and unfairness of that period somehow inoculated us.

If only that were the case. In reality, as the Internet Age begins to pass from its “teenage” years into adulthood, it cannot only happen again, but is. “Blacklisted in a Click” is all too real and, perhaps like that Hollywood Blacklist, rolls along on a combination of paranoia, fear and – at times – the efforts of what I would call “well-meaning people” – though we should not take that term too far.

The Age of the Internet has meant many great things. We are more interconnected and able to communicate with each other than at any other time in the entire history of humanity. Advances in science, great literature, the expression of public opinion and the ability to combine efforts on behalf of the common good are powered by the Web and its personal offspring, social media.

But with this great step forward in linking all the disparate members of humankind have come situations we have yet to reconcile. A ticket to membership in this global information and opinion colossus generally requires an unprecedented public exposure of personal data – very often willingly but all too often unknowingly – and an unprecedented exposure of “self” and reliance on the pipeline that is “The Web.”

dsc0801-version-2And therein is both the means to be heard and to be silenced … and, in the latter, with an effectiveness only to be dreamed of by the powers of blacklisting in the past. Every word we post – not just our latest script – can be tracked and backtracked. Every official record can and is being examined and aggregated.  For many of us, every item we buy at the grocery is noted.  And, increasingly, every step we take, every mile we travel, will be available in perpetuity.

We’re only now beginning to deal – in law and in society – with this ramped up, new tech potential for evil.

A few examples of the warning signs – or simply the circumstances – that could be used by those who would silence others: The point of the Hollywood Blacklist was to remove certain people from public dialogue – and identifying them was critical. It was to be achieved by forcing “known” individuals to name others.

Today, no need.  Two recent Supreme Court cases show how easily our right of association – one of those five freedoms I mentioned earlier – can now be overridden should the law be changed to support that work.

In 2012, in Jones v. United States, the Court  – in an opinion written by Justice Scalia … again, Justice Scalia — decided that police need a search warrant to place a GPS tracking device on a car used by a man later indicted on drug charges.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the “Government can store such records and efficiently mine them for information years into the future… GPS monitoring is cheap… proceeds surreptitiously, [and] it evades the ordinary checks that constrain abusive law enforcement practices: ‘limited police resources and community hostility.'”

Justice Sotomayor expressed concerns that the Government’s use of such technology might chill “associational and expressive freedoms.” “GPS monitoring generates a precise, comprehensive record of a person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.”

Justice Alito, in concurrence, wrote that: “Recent years have seen the emergence of many new devices that permit the monitoring of a person’s movements. In some locales, closed-circuit television video monitoring is becoming ubiquitous. On toll roads, automatic toll collection systems create a precise record of the movements of motorists who choose to make use of that convenience. Many motorists purchase cars that are equipped with devices that permit a central station to ascertain the car’s location at any time so that roadside assistance may be provided if needed and the car may be found if it is stolen.”

He noted that as of June 2011, it has been reported, there were more than 322 million wireless devices in use in the United States – goodness only knows how many there are today.

Just last June, the court – in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts – held that similar restraints on government apply to an even more effective means of tracking our movements … and then, by aggregating the data, determine who is meeting with whom, how often, where and when.

dsc0801-version-2In Carpenter v. United States, Roberts observed that While individuals regularly leave their vehicles, they compulsively carry cell phones with them all the time. A cell phone faithfully follows its owner beyond public thoroughfares and into private residences, doctor’s offices, political headquarters, and other potentially revealing locales. … nearly three-quarters of smartphone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12% admitting that they even use their phones in the shower. Accordingly, when the Government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near-perfect surveillance as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user.”

In a truly disturbing notion that has a science fiction note about it, Roberts added that “Moreover, the retrospective quality of the data here gives police access to a category of information otherwise unknowable. The Government can now travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts (and) because location information is continually logged for all of the 400 million devices in the United States—not just those belonging to persons who might happen to come under investigation—this newfound tracking capacity runs against everyone. Unlike with the GPS device in Jones, police need not even know in advance whether they want to follow a particular individual, or when.

Whoever the suspect turns out to be, he has effectively been tailed every moment of every day for years… and only the few without cell phones could escape this tireless and absolute surveillance.”

But just as in the 1950s, when relatively few people were actually targeted for prosecution, and fewer still were convicted, in matters relating to those blacklisted, we need consider not just what the government might do, but what non-governmental entities can and are doing with their private versions of blacklists – even the benign but ubiquitous “lists.”

Social media companies are not governed by the First Amendment. Online information aggregators not only brag about, but build political and business models based on their ability to scrutinize, analyze and define individuals to the “nth” degree.

We provide the data to the extent that a Mossad intelligence officer once told a Newseum audience that worldwide, what once took teams of analysts and agents months to assemble, can now be gathered with a few “clicks” and the right search tools.

It’s but a short step from knowing how we vote, purchase, travel and associate to using those characteristics to create profiles of whole groups of people who – in the terms of the blacklister – are “undesirable or unacceptable.”

Because blacklisting has a reputation for targeting those in the political or creative fields, consider what’s now potentially at risk in other areas. How many of us here tonight carry and use those friendly supermarket cards at checkout that produce savings?  While we are saving a few dollars, the supermarket’s computer is busy logging in everything we buy – and presumably, consume.

What if that checkout lane data – say, on the total tonnage of pepperoni consumed over a few decades by some – were made available to the health care and insurance industries. Will heart surgeons prioritize work on those who have taken better care of their arteries … or blacklist those high-risk consumers of spicy meats?

We already get discounts on some car insurance policies by allowing those companies to do what the Jones and Carpenter decisions deny police, at least without a warrant: track not where, but how we drive.

What recourse should we have to a decision to blacklist us not on the basis of moving violations adjudicated in a court of law, or accidents recorded in public records, but on an amorphous decision – likely made by artificial intelligence – that we’re not a good insurance risk.

dsc0801-version-2The manner in which we provide the data that can be used against us is growing by the minute… from those home assistants such as Alexa, to Amazon’s downright scary ability to not just report on what we have bought to project accurately on what we might want to buy, to the now somewhat quaint realization that Google tracks our every search to Facebook’s record of who we consider ‘friends.’

Even those who prize privacy, who would oppose in a nano-second the idea of “blacklists” in the manner of this exhibit can fall prey to becoming a member of that threatening ground I mentioned some time ago: well-meaning people.

When social media – in fits and starts – decided to remove the conspiracy-laden Alex Jones from his techno-perch, I suspect most of us quietly went “well, at least that stuff is gone.”

But is the rationale for removing Jones, for now at least, from the modern-day public square – and let me declare at this moment I have no desire to ever defend the content of his ravings in that square – really different from the discredited reasoning of those who tried to silence Trumbo?  A threat to our national consciousness, perhaps our national morals and morality,  if not our national security?

Social media gurus did manage to reduce Mr. Jones’s impact by removing him from his principal means of attracting public notice:  YouTube and Facebook.

In the three weeks before the August 6th bans, Infowars had a daily average of nearly 1.4 million visits to its website and views of videos posted by its main YouTube and Facebook pages, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the web data firms Tubular Labs and SimilarWeb. In the three weeks afterward, its audience fell by roughly half, to about 715,000 site visits and video views, according to the analysis.

Joseph McCarthy could never have envisioned the power over who gets heard – and who does not – now held by Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and whatever other, newer and trendier means of social discourse now exists.

With but a click of a key in some unknown part of the Web or a social media company, we can be blacklisted in an effective manner that HUAC or “Red Channels” or AWARE desired, but could not achieve.

And the scope of blacklisting also has exploded exponentially.  The “Great Firewall of China” shows how massive investment in surveillance technology can track, block and effectively withhold and, on a practical level, erase individuals or entire sections of the worlds’ knowledge.

And think it’s bad now? Just as printing presses, telephones and such enabled the Hollywood Blacklist to spread far quicker than the “black” death list of King Charles in England in 1660, the unfathomable speed of the just-dawning era of Artificial Intelligence will make human response times – or the ability to use false names – useless and ineffective.

Consider how easily movie moguls or the zealot critic, if empowered then with a simple word processing program that compared a new script with previous submissions, could easily have spotted Trumbo’s work under any other name?

So … what do we do in the face of this awful potential for “Blacklisting in a Click?”  We have to do what those who would defeat blacklists have always done… fight for the right to be different, to be the other, and to join with others who are to some – or even the many – unacceptable, undesirable and even not patriotic.

We have to redevelop trust in a marketplace of ideas in which all may be heard, and fight to ensure that all of the means to speak in that marketplace… whether that means providing universal, equal access to the Web or to avoiding taking a meat-ax to free speech in the worthy pursuit of online predators and bullies.

dsc0801-version-2It means even resisting those good people who argue that we would better off – if only we could ban the wacky, the disgusting and even the repugnant – blacklisting those sorts we all secretly wish we could do without. It means insisting on reasonable legal protections for privacy even when we run the risk of not knowing about some among us with less than honorable intentions.

It means resisting the impulse to sanction that which we do not like, or approve of, or see the value of – of recognizing that engagement is not endorsement, communication is not consent and interaction is not approval.

Much work will be needed by those last few observations – but with vigilance and such constant work, the scope, nature and impact of “blacklists” of the future … “Blacklists with a click” – may make the Hollywood Era as if a comparison of cave drawings to the Internet.

As a now-departed friend, colleague and mentor, John Seigenthaler, once observed, “First Amendment freedoms are never safe and secure, but always are in the process of being made safe and secure.”

With that thought in mind, thank you.

Gene Policinski is President and COO of the Freedom Forum Institute, which in partnership with the Newseum, is principally funded by the nonpartisan foundation Freedom Forum.  The Institute’s main offices are in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at

1. Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” Cartoon
2. A Washington, D.C. newspaper headline November 9, 1919 signals the beginning of mass arrests during the first Red Scare, including nine in the District of Columbia.
3. United States Secretary of Labor Louis Freeland Post (1849-1928), photographed between 1905 and 1928.
4. Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, Counterattack (6/1950). Courtesy of Jewish Museum Milwaukee Collections.
7. Joe Heller “Phone Fingerprint” Comic, September 11, 2013.

Facts | Words | Empathy | Voices Matter

Dear Friends of Jewish Museum Milwaukee,

JEWISH MUSEUM MILWAUKEE MATTERS: With the rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S, hate speech and white nationalist activities learning about and from Jewish history is more important than ever. JMM provides resources to people throughout the Milwaukee area and beyond. We bring important and timely issues to the fore, concentrating on four areas that provide opportunities for fact-finding, critical thinking, conversation and community.


According to the 2017 Anti-Defamation League report anti-Semitic incidents rose by 57% in 2017. The permanent exhibit and related school workshops educate visitors and school children on the facts regarding the Holocaust and on anti-Semitism in America through the years.

The expanded Stitching Histories From the Holocaust exhibit this past summer identified key United States immigration policies which limited immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe in the first part of the 20th century—introducing these policies for the first time to many visitors. Programming explored poignant contemporary immigration issues facing diverse populations.

VOICES MATTERdsc0801-version-2
JMM is a place to hear from people of all backgrounds—from survivor speakers sharing their experiences with student groups to the students themselves sharing their family’s immigration stories. We connect the broad themes of the Museum to what our visitors have lived and felt. We elicit these voices to make our work and relationships stronger, through written and recorded response and conversations at programs and through tours.

Anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred take many dsc0801-version-2shapes and disguises. As this quote from the current Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare exhibit demonstrates, dog whistles are not new in American politics, but the depths of the internet make it easier to connect with xenophobic tropes. JMM offers a vehicle to explore this topic historically and to debunk stereotypes then and now.

“One of the names was Danny Kaye, and we found out his real name was David Daniel Kaminsky. There is one who calls himself Edward Robinson. His real name is Emanuel Goldenberg…….” – Representative John Rankin of the House on Un American Activities Committee when discussing unfriendly witnesses.

EMPATHY MATTERSdsc0801-version-2
The special exhibit Allied in the Fight: Jews, Blacks and the Struggle for Civil Rights in spring of 2018 was in connection with the citywide initiative marking the 50th anniversary of Milwaukee’s Open Housing Marches. It celebrated collaborations between the African-American and Jewish communities during the Civil Rights era. Programming explored the issues that continue to plague the African-American community and asked patrons how they could be an ally and/or take action to effect positive change.

YOU MATTER to all of us at JMM.

Whether through visiting, volunteering, becoming a member, donating to or utilizing the archive your engagement makes our work worthwhile. Your year-end gift will help us continue to educate and converse about timely and timeless topics today. All gifts up to the first $15,000 will be matched by a generous anonymous donor. Help us reach our $30,000 goal! It’s easy to give:

Best wishes and thank you for all you do for JMM!

Anneliese Dickman, Board President
Patti Sherman-Cisler, Executive Director

Re-Education: A Collective Responsibility

dsc0801-version-2In planning for the anticipated return of Stitching History From The Holocaust and the added stories of the Oelsner and Spira/Stern families, Jewish Museum Milwaukee was excited to present a timeline that would integrate their narratives with the Strnad’s and provide context for events surrounding World War II. Little did we know that in contextualizing the individual experiences that happened seventy-five years ago, we would encounter disturbing parallels to what we are witnessing in our world today.

In Paul Strnad’s first letter to his cousin, Alvin, in Milwaukee dated October 1938, he writes “even now strong anti-Semitic tendencies are making themselves felt, such tendencies that never even existed before in this country.”

Re-reading this statement in the days leading up to the recent one year anniversary of the white-nationalist led ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, VA, and watching that community along with our nation’s capital brace for another unbridled display of racism, anti-Semitism and sheer hatred for ‘the other’, I couldn’t help but reflect on two phrases which are part of our collective consciousness – “never forget,” and “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

The anniversary saw the rally supporters outnumbered by counter-protesters but we must ask ourselves what gave rise to that explosion of vitriol? On the television, in podcasts, on social media platforms and in our country’s streets, our society has witnessed an unprecedented show of unity among white supremacist groups and movements. Despite those two seemingly engrained phrases, segments of our world ARE forgetting.

According to recent polls conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, two-thirds of American millennials surveyed cannot identify what Auschwitz is and 22% of millennials haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they’ve heard of it. There was a much greater awareness of modern-day bias against Jews, with 68% of respondents saying anti-Semitism is present in America today, and 51% saying there are “many” or “a great deal of” neo-Nazis in the United States today.

dsc0801-version-2After seeing these statistics, two other well-known quotes come to mind: “fear springs from ignorance,” and “knowledge is power.” While these concepts are universally known, understanding and knowing how to practice them are something else entirely.  These are lessons we urgently need to be re-educated about – sustained reminders of this responsibility are essential to the foundation of our humanity.

-Molly Dubin, Curator

Bottom image: (left to right) Rebekah Sherman, Judy Sidran, John Tortorice, Tony Michels, Michael Stern, Amos Bitzan, and Chad Gibbs at “Translating Lives: An Exploration of the Correspondence of Sara Spira” program where University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Amos Bitzan revealed the statistics released by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Engaged and Relevant: The Role of Jewish Museum Milwaukee

dsc0801-version-2Wow! Three years. It really doesn’t seem possible that I have been at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee for three whole years. They say that time flies when you are having fun, and if you consider fun the ability to learn, grow, converse, contemplate and create; then I have certainly had my share at JMM.

The people, the programs, the exhibits, the education programs and the special events all make each day meaningful and unique. I am awed by the talent of the staff and interns, inspired by the passion of the board, docents and exhibit committees, touched by our visitors’ stories, thankful for treasured donations to the archives, warmed by the thousands of school children who visit, grateful to our loyal members and encouraged by the donors and all who believe in what we do.

JMM is strong today because of this collective passion, vision and dedication.

JMM occupies a unique niche in the museum world in Milwaukee. We use the Jewish experience to build bridges between groups of people and between eras. We live our tagline “Where Conversations Happen” by looking at multiple perspectives of a topic or issue, by partnering with diverse organizations, by asking visitors to use critical thinking skills to contemplate commonalities and differences of a particular subject over time. The board and staff of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee met this fall and after considerable discussion, data gathering, and reflection put to writing our collective understanding of what we see as JMM’s impact in the Jewish community, Greater Milwaukee community, South Eastern Wisconsin schools and residents, and even national audiences.

“Use the Jewish experience in Milwaukee and beyond to connect and create dialogue on relevant critical issues and to inspire and transform visitors.”

dsc0801-version-2We certainly had that goal in mind when we decided to exhibit Allied in the Fight: Jews, Blacks and the Struggle for Civil Rights and related programming this past winter. The intent was to share the history of these two groups as it relates to the Civil Rights movement and the Fair Housing marches of 50 years ago. We were also intent on building bridges between the two communities and two eras. The exhibit engaged the national and local alliances between African Americans and Jews historically, during and after the 1960s, and contemplated issues that are relevant today. Programs explored redlining, segregation then and now, and contemplated actions needed for moving forward toward effecting positive change. The exhibit and programs fittingly ended with an African American Jewish Freedom Seder. Twenty City of Milwaukee schools were subsidized so they could bring their classes to learn about the Civil Rights era of 50 years ago. One thousand nine hundred students learned about this important time period. Diverse audiences came to the nine sold-out programs. These programs demonstrated that the audiences were hungry for information and open dialogue – wanting to understand Milwaukee’s history and to take actions to change the status quo.

One visitor commented, “My first time at this museum and it was powerful and inspiring about the past and present of this state. Don’t change too much, we have lots to do!” Another stated: “Beautiful exhibition. Two voices that can only build off each other.”

dsc0801-version-2The remount of Stitching Histories From the Holocaust, is at its essence stories about the human toll and talent lost during the Holocaust. The stories of three families with local ties personalizes the enormity of the Holocaust. JMM added a timeline to the exhibit which highlights immigration laws and anti-Semitic activity from the 1920s to 1950s. The three families’ watershed moments complete the timeline – asking visitors to contemplate the personal toll laws and public opinion had on the outcomes of these three families.

Programs for the exhibit look at the historical context like the Diaspora in China: German and Polish Refugees in Shanghai on August 7. JMM will also provide context for the rise of nationalism and immigration issues of today. On July 11, former United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro will explore the rise of nationalism in relation to his family’s story of immigration from Czechoslovakia in 1940 and the return of populism and nationalism in the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe today. Darryl Morin will present Contemporary Issues in Latino Immigration on July 25. These presentations will offer historical threads, impart new knowledge, and spur thoughtful conversation.

This October, with our most ambitious exhibit to date, JMM will consider the question that echoed through the United States in the 1940s and 1950s: Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

dsc0801-version-2JMM’s originally curated Blacklist: Hollywood’s Red Scare explores the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigation of alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens and organizations suspected of having communist ties. Driven by fear of the spread of global communism, HUAC demanded that actors, writers and directors declare if they ever had communist ties and to name others who may have communist affiliations. HUAC and its supporters espoused that it was a citizen’s patriotic duty to share their political affiliation and to identify others’ associations. Those who refused to declare their affiliation or to name names felt they were the defenders of the First Amendment Rights of Free Speech and Assembly.

I hope you were impacted and maybe even transformed by the exhibits and programs of the past year, as I was. I certainly hope you join us this fall as we contemplate and discuss the definition of patriotism. We hope school children explore the exhibit and partake in workshops to learn more about their First Amendment rights. Thank you to all of you for making my first three years memorable, transformative, insightful and treasured. Please join us again and again, for only through shared discourse and learning can we make a difference.

Patti Sherman-Cisler
Executive Director