By Rick Folbaum

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – What did Floridians know about the Holocaust as the horror was unfolding?  That was the subject of an event in North Miami Beach sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Shedding light on one of history’s darkest moments, newspaper and magazine articles from the 1930s and 40s documented the rise of Hitler and systematic killings of many millions.

CBS4 anchor Rick Folbaum moderated the talk, which featured two Florida historians and a museum educator.

All agreed that Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass in 1938, really opened people’s eyes to the brutality of Hitler’s Nazi party. Europe’s Jews were stripped of their businesses and property while synagogues burned to the ground.

“Even though Americans had information on Kristallnacht, this really crystalized things, and they were shocked and horrified by what they saw the Nazis committing,” said JoAnna Wasserman with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum.

The panel talked about the MS St. Louis, the cruise ship filled with Jewish refugees that were turned away from PortMiami in 1939 – sent back to Europe were so many of them were killed.

“Americans, A. Wanted nothing to do with the European war. And secondly, it didn’t change immigration policy at all,” said historian Dr. Gary Mormino with the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “There was no great demand, ‘we have to open the gates for refugee Jews or other European immigrants.’”

They also talked about how Jews already in the U.S. began to move south in the late 30s, early 40s, and how that led to more awareness and activism.

“What really accelerated our understanding of what was going on there is the growth of the Jewish population over here, and they became much more vocal,” said historian Dr. George Paul with HistoryMiami.

Miami Beach would become a hub. By 1940, one quarter of its total population: Jewish. One of them, Mitchell Wolfson, the Miami Beach mayor, who would resign to enlist in the war.

By 1942, the Miami Daily News was reporting that Nazis had killed more than 1.7 million Jews.  Of course, they would go on to kill a total of 6 million – along with millions more who didn’t fit into Hitler’s final solution.

Accurately reporting history in real time was vital then as it is now.

This is the 25th year of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.  CBS4 will be covering a series of local events aimed at furthering the museum’s mission of confronting hatred, preventing genocide and promoting human dignity.

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