Learning and Unlearning at Foley Library

A high school student looks at a display of Jesse Owens from the Americans and the Holocaust exhibit
A Spokane student explores the "Americans and the Holocaust" exhibit this fall at Foley Library.

October 25, 2022
Gonzaga University News Service
Gonzaga University had the privilege this fall of hosting “Americans and the Holocaust,” a touring exhibit created in collaboration between United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Library Association, which investigates the United States’ responses to the Holocaust and participation in World War II.

Brad Matthies, associate dean for library services, spoke after the exhibit’s conclusion on its hopes for educating patrons about the Holocaust as it moves around the country.

“In terms of the educational outreach and what this exhibit is trying to do, it’s basically bringing the Holocaust experience into the future,” Matthies said. "What does it mean for us today? Why should we combat hate?”

In order to host the exhibit, libraries engaged in a competitive application process. This year, there were 250 applicants and only 50 universities were accepted. Matthies attributes Gonzaga’s selection to three things: Gonzaga’s missions of humanistic values and social justice, the support of offices such as the Center for the Study of Hate, and Gonzaga’s proximity to hot spots of Christian nationalist groups and white supremacist acts.

Although many of these hate groups have gone bankrupt or have been disbanded, there are still active members today.


Dustin Gomez, Foley Library program assistant, says that it is significant that Gonzaga was chosen because of the university’s Jesuit values that encourage people to put their education in action.
“I think it’s important that we support that through the Jesuit value in terms of not only supporting things in concept but also in action,” Gomez said. “And I believe that hosting these kinds of things and going through the labor and the work of actually engaging with the community, with these kids that are coming [to see the exhibit] with schools, and actually going through the process of educating yourself so that you can provide a solid foundation of information, I think that all fits into that core Jesuit value.”

The exhibit reached nearly 6,000 people during its time on campus, exceeding attendance predictions. The library even had to expand the exhibit’s hours to serve all the interested patrons. “Americans and the Holocaust” also brought with it several opportunities for special events on Gonzaga’s campus, including talks by Holocaust survivor Carla Peperzak and Clarice Wilsey, whose late father was a liberator of and physician for the people of the Dachau concentration camp.

There were also several special, unexpected guests at the exhibit.

A remarkable moment occurred when one woman walked in and noticed a picture of her grandfather standing behind President Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II. She did not know the picture was going to be there and spoke to Matthies about how horrifying his experience with liberating the concentration camps was.

There was also a group of Buddhist monks from Newport, Washington, who visited after watching the Ken Burns Holocaust documentary together. Matthies asked one monk about what they thought about the exhibit, and she talked about how the Holocaust stands in relation to the Buddhist teachings.

“The exhibit gave me a lot to think about,” she related to Matthies. “The first precept of Buddhism is to ‘Avoid killing or harming any living thing.’ Buddhism is essentially a peaceful tradition, so what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust goes against our teachings.”

Asked what he hopes the Spokane community will take away from the exhibit, Gomez said that he wants patrons to apply what they have learned to positive acts.

“If there's one thing I would hope it would be that the Spokane community would recognize the human element of the story, identify with it and then be able to take that and create good works out of it.”  
Take an online tour of the exhibit