Taylor Beitzel isn't Jewish and doesn't have any family who were affected by the Holocaust. But the North Scott High School senior has become an expert on the evil, murderous Third Reich.
Since she was in 7th grade, Ms. Beitzel has created intricately detailedHolocaust-related exhibits for the National History Day program (she placed fourth in the nation last year), and all five will be on display Sunday at the Putnam Museum Grand Lobby as part of theUnited Nations' International Holocaust Remembrance Day -- the anniversary of the Jan. 27, 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In partnership with the Holocaust Education Committee of the Quad Cities and the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, the Putnam will show Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning film, "Schindler's List."
"It's just so important to share their stories, especially since so many survivors are dying, and they're not able to share their stories," Ms. Beitzel, of Princeton, Iowa, said this week. "It's just become a big part of my life."
She got interested in the Holocaust in 6th grade after reading "The Diary of Anne Frank," and wanted to make exhibits (on five-foot-tall tri-fold boards) partly since her older sister Samantha took part in National History -- an annual student competition in June at the University of Maryland.
"As a 6th grader, it was really difficult to grasp all of it because it's such a horrific thing to happen," Ms. Beitzel said of the Holocaust. "But at the same time I could relate to it, because I was about the same age as Anne. It really stuck with me and it's stuck with me ever since."
Her first exhibit focused on the infamous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed experiments on his victims, including an identical twin -- Eva Kor, a survivor Ms. Beitzel interviewed by e-mail. In National History Day, students must first finish in the top two in their category at a regional contest to go to state, and two from each state in the category are chosen for nationals. Ms. Beitzel has been picked to go to nationals every time, and she's visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. each time.
Since 7th grade, she also has attended the annual Yom Hashoah ceremony every year, and has met Holocaust survivors, including Eva Schloss (who was featured at the Putnam last year), the posthumous stepsister of Anne Frank (Anne's father married Ms. Schloss's mother in 1953). Ms. Beitzel did her exhibit on Ms. Schloss in 8th grade.
Other works -- which Ms. Beitzel has displayed throughout the Q-C -- have been "Dr. Ernst Leitz and the Leica Freedom Train;" " Debating the Final Solution: The Wannsee Conference;" "A Revolution to Cleanse Germany: The Handicapped Holocaust," and this year her research and exhibit will be on The Nuremberg Laws.
TheNuremberg race laws were adopted in Germany in 1935, excluding Jewish people from society -- restricting marriage, taking away their citizenship, and limiting what they could do, "so eventually they could be deported and exterminated without much of an outcry," Ms. Beitzel said.
Her exhibit on handicapped Holocaust victims (including the blind, deaf, any mental or physical disability and alcoholics) -- among five million non-Jews killed by the Nazis -- was the one picked 4th out of more than 100 nationwide last year.
"I focused on how the handicapped were treated under the Third Reich, because a lot of people forget about the other victims of the Holocaust," Ms. Beitzel said. "There were the homosexuals, the blacks, Poles were a big one. The handicapped weren't sent to camps, but to euthanasia centers. They were injected, starved, or gassed."
"It was something I feel very strongly about," she said. "Adolf Hitler's whole plan was to create the perfect Aryan race. If you're not perfect, you're not part of my race."
She was shocked at her contest finish. "I started crying because I had never done that well," Ms. Beitzel recalled. "It was such an honor and such a big thing for me. History Day is kind of my life."
In 8th grade at the Iowa contest, aHolocaust survivor was judging, and he "went up to my teacher, he was crying and said, 'She really gets it,'" she said. "That was such a huge thing for me."
Despite her research, Ms. Beitzel hasnever seen "Schindler's List" (1993), the winner of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It tells the true story of the enigmatic Oskar Schindler, a Nazi, womanizer, and war profiteer who saved the lives of more than 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust.
Ms. Beitzel hopes visitors Sunday will realize how important it is to keep these stories alive.
"The Holocaust may have happened 80 years ago and we may not learn about it in school, but people still need to be educated about it and know what happened. If we don't, it will happen again," she said. "It has in Sudan, Darfur, and Yugoslavia. The list goes on and on with ethnic cleansing and genocide. Such a horrific thing as the Holocaust, as a world we should do our best to make sure such a thing doesn't happen again."
"Everybody's human and everybody can get along. Just because somebody's different from you doesn't mean you have to go kill them," Ms. Beitzel said, noting Ms. Schloss spoke at her school, imploring students to be kind."Bullying leads to these kinds of things. Discrimination leads to these kind of things. We've just got to stop that."
"To share these stories, I almost feel like I need to help them, because they can't anymore," Ms. Beitzel said of Holocaust victims. "People are forgetting. At the beginning, people wanted to sweep the Holocaust under the rug. You can't do that anymore. In this day and age, we need to know what happened, and how to stop it from happening again.
"It's a terrible, terrible thing. Researching it as long as I have, you never get used to the pictures and the information," she said. "To be able to share it with people, I feel it's just important and something that I need to do."
If you go
-- What: "Schindler's List."
-- When: Sunday at 3 p.m.
-- Where: Putnam Museum Giant Screen Theater, 1717 W. 12th St., Davenport.
-- Tickets: $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, students and military, and $5 for youth, or free with museum admission or Putnam membership.
** NOTE: Seating is limited, so please call to purchase tickets in advance at (563) 324-1933 ext. 242.
From at 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., the exhibits designed by Taylor Beitzel will be displayed in the Putnam's Grand Lobby.