Opinion: Himmelreich ’76 Asserts Nazism is not Supported in Garthwait Photo
By Janet Knauff Himmelreich, ’76
I have not even read the Gettysburgian since I graduated in 1976. However, I am appalled by what has happened in the past few days and feel I need to respond to the student, Cameron Sauers who “found” the yearbook photo from 1980 and decided to take it upon himself to cause a “teachable” moment. It would be most helpful to understand the circumstances that caused him to be looking through a yearbook from 1980 in the first place. The coincidence of it being the same year as the yearbook picture from Gov. Ralph Northman’s medical school yearbook is not lost on me – was he setting out to see what he could uncover about someone of significance at Gettysburg at the same time that he could embarrass?
I don’t buy that a yearbook photo, intended as a farce at a fraternity party is all a “display [of a] symbol linked to hatred, oppression or genocide.” That is just absurd and a disingenuous interpretation of the picture from someone who admits to watching and enjoying Hogan’s Heroes himself. Perhaps Mr. Sauers did not anticipate such a firestorm; however, I think the real teachable moment is for the whole of the campus community to realize that it is a community bigger than just the students currently matriculating and that it is not appropriate to take something out of the context of the time it was written, drawn, or photographed and apply a standard applicable to the current time.
We were of the Vietnam War era – when I came to the campus in 1972, the first thing that was asked of any guy was “what’s your number?” And, that would be their draft number. Many students felt we were fighting an illegitimate war that was gunning down our brothers, friends and uncles. Not all that different than the student’s concerns about school violence and the like. However, I fail to see how a yearbook picture based on a TV show of the time (and still available online as he noted) is fostering to the Gettysburg community a symbol of hatred, oppression and genocide. Rather it reminds us of a time when TV shows were used to express opinions through humor. Most people would agree that that program was expressly anti-Nazi!
To answer the question he posed – didn’t anyone think Nazism was wrong in 1980? Yes, Nazism was seen as wrong, but this picture wasn’t about Nazism in 1980, it was about a themed fraternity party. As noted, the era we are talking about was much more caught up in the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon’s resignation, and the period of mass inflation that took place after it. As history majors, we were taught to ensure we were evaluating what we read, discovered and analyzed through the lens of the time we were studying, not through the current age. Perhaps all the students of the college should take historical methods.
Things will not return to normal in a few weeks – there will be fallout from this experience – some good and some bad. One of the things that should be clear however, is that there is fierce loyalty to the College – no one wants to see the reputation of the College or its graduates sullied in a manner like this. I wish Bob Garthwait all the best in the future and thank him for what he has done for my alma mater.