"This is a story about a few people who made a difference. Confronted by evil, we sometimes say; ' but, I'm just a single person, what can I do?' These young students were compelled to act and they did so with great courage and at the risk of their lives."
Mary Ashcraft, UNLV coordinator of German Language, is talking about the story told in the White Rose Exhibit currently at Lied Library and running through Aug. 22. Free and open to the public as well as the university community, it is located on the first floor to the left of the main entrance.
In 1942 and 1943, a small group of students attending Munich University and assisted by a professor began the White Rose Movement to oppose the Nazis and the war. They secretly produced and distributed anti-Nazi and anti-war leaflets and graffiti. Seven leaders were captured and executed.
The presentation at UNLV is a traveling exhibit. It consists of 47 panels with historic photographs and narratives with biographies about the movement's principals and its aims. After his capture and when interrogated by the Gestapo, Hans Scholl, one of the founders, said he gave it the name White Rose ("Die Weisse Rose") for no particular reason, but that it was simple and implied seriousness of purpose.
Six editions of leaflets were produced laboriously by hand on a duplicating machine. They urged opposition to the Nazi dictatorship and the war. They told of the deaths of Jews, atrocities committed against civilians and urged the German people to resist in all ways large and small.
Ashcraft, who teaches German, said that for 20 years she had been using in her class a book that was written by the sister of two of the students. "Our students connect with the age and the pursuits the German students had," Ashcraft said. Some are so moved by the story that they weep, she said. She learned about the traveling exhibit and began angling for a UNLV venue. She found a friend in Patricia Iannuzzi, dean of the UNLV Libraries, who had studied at Ludwig Maximilians Universitat in Munich. "She said immediately, 'we'll do it!'"
In addition to the support of the UNLV Libraries, the exhibit is sponsored by the consulate general of the Federal Republic of Germany, the UNLV Foreign Language Department and UNLV International Council; and the support of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, Generations of the Shoah-Nevada, the Governor's Advisory Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust, Hillel Jewish Student Center at UNLV, the Jewish Family Service Agency, Holocaust Survivors Group of Southern Nevada and the Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center.
The exhibit opened with a reception at which representatives from the university and organizations gathered. The UNLV Libraries provided each attendee with a White Rose Foundation program and guide to the exhibit said Tamara Josserand, development director. She said the activities were new steps toward the building of relationships with the Southern Nevada Jewish community.
"First and foremost, the exhibit highlights such a significant part of World War II, but one that is widely unknown," said Elliot Karp, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas.
He said a common question about the Nazi-era was, "why didn't more people do something? Well, these young people did do something. They saw the hatred and intolerance and violence. They did step up. They were successful because they stood up. The message is, no matter how difficult the situation, we have a duty to stand up in opposition to bigotry, intolerance and violence.
"That's the significance of this exhibit at the library. So many young people will pass through and see it. Perhaps, firstly they'll say, 'I didn't know this' and secondly, 'look how brave they were.' For our world today, the message is, we have to express our opposition to these kinds of things," he said.
Ashcraft said the exhibit presents the opportunity for initiating dialogue among diverse groups and to bring new groups into the library. She said students in particular looked at those pictures, and they saw men and women their own ages. "They stood in rapt attention. I know they were touched. It raises the question for them. 'Would I have the courage to do that?'" she said.
The White Rose Exhibit will be on display on the first floor of Lied Library through Aug. 22. It is free and open to the public.