Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 20, 2013

Anti-Semitism expert to speak at History Center

BY GRETCHEN MURRAY Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The History Center of Traverse City will present “Anti-Semitism in America, The High Tide: 1921-1940” today from 3 to 5 p.m. at the center, 322 Sixth Street.

The program coincides with the center’s current Legends Exhibit focusing on the late Dr. Harry Weitz, along with Les Biederman and Marshall Collins. Speaker will be Dr. Barry Mehler of Ferris State University, an internationally recognized expert in the history of eugenics and anti-Semitism.

Weitz was the area’s first radiologist. Mehler will help explain the atmosphere in which Weitz worked to create new medical and educational facilities in Traverse City.

“Dr. Weitz was selected for the Legends program because of the positive impact he made to the area’s medical field as well as his work in breaking the barrier of discrimination against the area’s Jewish citizens,” said Peg Siciliano, the center’s archivist.

Along with pioneering the field of radiology in northern Michigan, Weitz also was instrumental in the development of Munson Medical Center, which started as a medical branch of the State Psychiatric Hospital in the 1920s.

He also was one of the driving forces in establishing Northwestern Michigan College and was a prominent member of Congregation Beth-El, serving as president of the Congregation in the 1940s.

According to Siciliano, Weitz moved to Traverse City in the 1930s after completing his education and residency in Detroit.

“Today, people didn’t realize how overt anti-Semitism was in the late ’30s and early ’40s,” Siciliano said. “Many were aware that something sinister was going on in Germany regarding the Jewish population. They were aware that boats of Jewish refugees were being turned away from America’s shores, but most people at the time didn’t seem to care about it.”

After years working to advance radiological medical science and his involvement in the expansion of the area’s medical facility, Weitz brought to light the predicament of Jews living in Traverse City in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

“While a part of the group of businessmen led by Les Biederman who were working to found Northwestern Michigan College, Dr. Weitz shared with them his discomfort at things such as a sign at a private club that said ‘Gentiles Only,’” Siciliano said. “Although no formal protests were held, Biederman and Weitz led others in the business community in indicating that this kind of discrimination was not tolerated in town.”

Mehler’s talk will offer a look at how Weitz and others in the community worked, lived and in many cases flourished during that time, she added.

In addition to Mehler’s presentation, the History Center today also will premiere its new traveling exhibit, “The Grand Traverse Region: Vibrant Reinvention,” a sweeping review of the area’s history.

“During the course of its history, Traverse City has reinvented itself several times over,” Siciliano said. “Many towns died off when the lumber industry died out. The exhibit points out reasons why this didn’t happen to Traverse City.”

The center intends to make the exhibit available to area businesses, institutions, colleges, banks and Munson Medical Center throughout the year.

Today’s program is free, though donations will be accepted.

Reservations are recommended by calling 995-0313, Ext. 102.