Several people stormed out of the North Platte Library Oct. 3 after an evening talk about the Nazis turned into a campaign speech. The talk, sponsored by the Western Nebraska Taxpayers, featured 86-year-old Kitty Werthmann, who lived seven years under Hitler’s rule in Austria.
Werthmann was 12 years old when Hitler assumed power there, according to her website.
Werthmann’s appearance in North Platte attracted a crowd of more than 80 people, Library Director Cecilia Lawrence said. The meeting room was filled beyond capacity after it was promoted on radio and in the North Platte Telegraph newspaper.
Those promotions didn’t specify that the taxpayers’ group was sponsoring the gathering, or that it would be a campaign speech, both of which violate library policies.
Several people came thinking it would just be an historical and educational presentation, but it turned into more, Lawrence said.
The talk was interesting to Lloyd Synovec of North Platte, a World War II veteran. But when Werthmann drew comparisons between Hitler and President Obama and told people how to vote, it was too much for Synovec.
He stood, loudly stated his objection, and left. Several others did too, he said.
Lawrence was home at the time and was hurriedly called to the library. She got there after the disgusted resident left, and had a long talk with organizer Gary Heinzle afterwards. They agreed it wouldn’t happen again.
The library is a neutral place and doesn’t sponsor campaigns, Lawrence said. She said the WNTA normally rents a meeting room in the library once a month, a closed door meeting for members.
But if a group brings in a speaker and promotes it, they must specify that they are the sponsor and the library is just the location, and it cannot be a campaign rally, according to library rules that are published on the city’s website.
She said the WNTA didn’t check the rules or notify the library that the meeting would be anything other than a normal, closed door get-together.
Because of the crowd at Werthmann’s presentation, the meeting room door was open and the noise and hubbub intruded on library patrons and staff, another policy violation, Lawrence said.
On the other hand, the WNTA was happy with the turnout.
WNTA member Ed Rieker said it was an excellent meeting. He said Obama’s policies are socialistic and are something to fear.
The library rules say:
• Use of the meeting room for political campaigning is not permitted.
• No meeting that interferes with the services, operations and purposes of the library is allowed.
• No user of the meeting room is to imply or represent in any way that their activity is sponsored by the North Platte Public Library without the express written consent of the Library Director. No publicity in connection with any meeting to be held at the Library is to make reference to the Library except to designate the meeting location.
• The meeting room capacity may not exceed 75 people due to the occupant load certificate.
Werthmann’s presentation can be seen on the Internet on You Tube. It says in part:
“Dictatorship did not happen overnight. In 1938, Austria was in a deep recession. One-third of our workforce was unemployed. There was 25 percent inflation and interest on loans was 25 percent. Our farmers were going bankrupt.”
Werthmann said when Hitler assumed power, people in Austria had great hope that the change would solve Austria’s problems but instead they lost their freedoms. She said they were tricked.
“We didn’t even know about the Holocaust until after the war was over because we were kept in the dark,” she said.