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Troy professor, Holocaust expert discusses new Ken Burns documentary

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The newest PBS documentary project from Ken Burns focuses on the Holocaust and specifically the United States’ response before during and after the Nazi mass murder of Jews.

On Capitol Journal Friday, Dr. Dan Puckett, a professor of History at Troy University who specializes in the Holocaust, said the project, “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” had been a long time coming.

“There have been hundreds of documentaries done about some aspect of the Holocaust, but very few on the American response,” Puckett said. “Ken Burns demands attention when he does something… so I think this really has captured the attention of the nation.”

Puckett said the film coincides with the opening of a new U.S. Holocaust Museum exhibit with the same focus and is a good opportunity for Americans to learn more about the good, bad and ugly that took place back then.

“For those of us who study this and write about the Holocaust and especially America’s response to it, there’s not really new information. But, for most Americans this is brand new and it’s fascinating. It is done exceptionally well.”

Puckett has written a book called In the Shadow of Hitler: Alabama’s Jews, the 2nd World War and the Holocaust.

According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, at least six million European Jews were systematically murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler in the period spanning from 1933, when Hitler came to power, and 1945, when Allied forces liberated Europe in World War II.

The documentary examines how information about what the Nazis were doing to Jews was slow to arrive to mainstream American audiences and, even when it did, many found it too unrealistic to believe. Puckett said most Americans were aware of the persecution of Jews, but not necessarily their mass murder.

“It’s November of 1942 in which the State Department actually confirms that the Jews are being exterminated in Europe, and this is published throughout the nation in newspapers. So if you could read or listen to the radio, you knew what was going on,” he said. “Now, knowing and believing are two different things – and that’s one of the points that Ken Burns and others are intimating is that we didn’t fully believe because these things were deemed to be war rumors.”

Puckett said some of the cause for that was the memory of World War I, in which such rumors were blamed for the United States being pulled into the conflict.

Asked about combatting Holocaust denialism, Puckett said education is key.

“Thanks to social media, thanks to the internet, (denialism or minimization) has really exploded,” Pucket said. “The Holocaust is one of the most documented tragedies in history. There is ample evidence this took place. In fact, the danger these days is the minimization. It’s not the outright denial, but the minimization of the Holocaust, saying it wasn’t as bad as we thought.”

Puckett said new research suggests the Holocaust could have actually been worse in terms of the number killed.

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