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“For 70 years, they kept these, and nobody knew about them,” Sarah Snow said. “We started reading all their letters, and we tried to get some people translate the German and the French…It was a much more tangible, much more intimate and vulnerable view of the overarching story that Opa told us.”

That discovery launched the Snows on a decade-long journey into her family’s history, a personal passion project that suddenly took on a much wider significance and scope about five years ago when the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum came calling.

Featuring a handful of artifacts that Sarah Snow loaned to the museum, Doeppner is now part of the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s special “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition, which opened to the public on Apr. 23 and will stay in Washington, D.C., through 2021.

The exhibit was assembled by a Holocaust Memorial Museum team over the course of five years and represents possibly the largest research project ever conducted on the subject, according to exhibition curator and Northwestern University adjunct history professor Daniel Greene.

The “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition aims to dispel myths about what Americans knew of the Holocaust by exploring how factors such as the Great Depression, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, and isolationism influenced the U.S. government, media, and the public.

The exhibit’s launch intentionally coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s 1993 opening, and Greene says that understanding the true history of the America’s response to the Holocaust remains critical with the country continuing to face many of the same issues that it encountered back then.

“We want people to understand this history for the sake of studying history,” Greene said. “We think that’s deeply important, and also, we want them to think about their roles and responsibilities as citizens of the nation or citizens of the world today.”

As the U.S. again grapples with questions about foreign intervention, and the federal government places more restrictions on immigration, including by refugees, the Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. increased by 57 percent from 2016 to 2017, the biggest single-year rise since the civil rights organization began tracking that data in 1979.

At the same time, a Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany and released on Apr. 12 found that 31 percent of all Americans believe that 2 million or fewer Jews were killed during the Holocaust. 45 percent of those surveyed could not name any of the more than 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos established in Europe during the Holocaust.

Defined by the Holocaust Memorial Museum as “systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder,” the Holocaust killed 6 million Jews. The Nazis also victimized other vulnerable populations, including Roma, people with physical and mental disabilities, gay men, and political and ideological opponents.

“In the Holocaust, we see the potential catastrophic outcomes of unchecked hate and anti-Semitism,” Greene said. “…Tragedies like this can happen again, and we’ve seen multiple genocides since the Holocaust, so that educational mission of the museum is critical.”

“Seeing Opa as part of this amazing, official exhibit, I teared up,” Sarah Snow said of her grandfather’s inclusion. “…It took it outside of my brain and my obsession and put it in the public eye, and all of a sudden, here was this real story and people were going to read it and learn something and know about it. It was just overwhelming.”

Doeppner’s connection with the Quakers ultimately turned out to be crucial to his survival, since it brought him into contact with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization founded in 1917 that belonged to an extensive network of refugee aid groups in Europe during the 1930s and ‘40s.

In 1938, Doeppner escaped Germany and joined his father in the Netherlands. Whether the AFSC was involved at this point is unclear, but Doeppner says in his autobiography that he was smuggled across the border by an organization hired by his father, though the Snows have been unable to find any documentation to confirm that part of his story.

However, a look through Doeppner’s file with the AFSC, which Holocaust Memorial Museum researchers uncovered in the organization’s archives, revealed that a recommendation from an American professor named Albert Martin who met Doeppner while living in Berlin played the biggest role in persuading McPherson College, a liberal arts institution in Kansas that actively recruited and raised scholarship funds for refugee students, to accept him.

His status as a German refugee, however, made it difficult for him to find a steady job, so he eventually joined the U.S. Army and fought in World War II. His military career lasted about 30 years, and he retired as a colonel, according to Sarah Snow, who says her grandfather later told family that he joined the military by choice, rather than necessity.

The museum decided to include Doeppner in its special exhibition in part to highlight the work that the AFSC and colleges like McPherson did to aid refugees at a time when the country as a whole was sharply divided on how to respond to reports of Nazi Germany’s atrocities.

According to an online version of the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit, the majority of Americans wanted to keep refugees out of the U.S. in 1938, when Doeppner was trying to make his way out of Germany, and two-thirds of Americans believed German Jews were entirely or partly to blame for their own persecution.

“The whole idea of the exhibit is to honor what America was doing or not doing,” Jason Snow said. “To lift up a little bit of the AFSC is kind of cool to me, because they worked hard to get [Doeppner] over here. I don’t know that he would’ve gotten over here without them.”

According to Sarah Snow, AFSC files show that the organization attempted to help Ella Doeppner leave Germany as well but was ultimately unsuccessful. She was arrested in January 1944 and was interned at Theresienstadt until the camp was liberated by Soviet troops on May 9, 1945.

Like other Holocaust survivors, Ella Doeppner first moved into a displaced persons’ camp, specifically one in Deggendorf, Germany. There, she managed to reunite with Tom Doeppner, who was stationed in France with the Army at the time and located her thanks to a letter from his sister, Brigette, who lived in France with a husband and daughter.

“It’s amazing. I get tears just thinking about it,” Snow said of her reaction to Doeppner’s panel in the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit. “…Even if my book just fades into nothingness, the fact that this story exists somewhere like the Holocaust Museum makes it all worth it.”