Mike Groene, the president of the Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association, said he was stunned to read that the WNTA sponsored a lecture at the library a couple weeks ago.The lecture 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 in Austria, according to her website.
Werthmann’s North Platte appearance attracted a crowd of more than 80 people, Library Director Cecilia Lawrence said, and violated several library policies.
Lawrence said the meeting was apparently sponsored by the WNTA. A founding WNTA member, Gary Heinzle, paid to rent the room, and the WNTA has a long-standing rental agreement with the library for monthly meetings and occasionally rents the room for a special meeting.
Several people attended thinking it would just be an historical and educational presentation, Lawrence said, but it turned into more.
Lloyd Synovec of North Platte, a World War II veteran, said the talk was interesting, but when Werthmann drew comparisons between Hitler and President Obama and told people how to vote, he stood, loudly stated his objection, and left. Several others did too, he said.
Library staffers told the Bulletin that about a dozen people left.
Lawrence was home at the time and was hurriedly called to the library. She got there after the hubbub and had a long talk with organizer Gary Heinzle. They agreed it wouldn’t happen again.
Groene said the WNTA was never the sponsor.
"Let me make this absolutely clear: the WNTA did not sponsor her talk," he told the Bulletin Thursday. "The board never talked about sponsoring her nor did we talk about it at our monthly meeting. (Member) Gary Heinzle stood up (at the WNTA meeting) and announced that the lady was having a talk. Anybody can announce events that they think people should attend (but) that does not mean that the WNTA is sponsoring the happening."
Werthmann is on a speaking tour of the area.
Groene said the Werthmann appearance came through an organization called the Eagle Forum.
Kathy Wilmot, a former member of the Nebraska State Board of Education, notified the press of her tour.
Apparently, the Heinzles arranged for a place to meet.
Lawrence said the meeting violated library policies against campaign rallies and crowds larger than 70 people. She said the library staff wasn't made aware of the potential size of the crowd nor the comparisons that Werthmann makes.
Groene said national social issues are not part of the WNTA mission.
"None of our members introduced her, nor did they use the WNTA name to endorse her talk," he said.
Groene said many of the talkbacks to the Bulletin's report of Werthmann's talk were hateful toward the WNTA.
"As to the hate-filled talkbacks addressed at the WNTA, just substitute any minority that dares to speak out for "WNTA" in any of the anti-WNTA talkbacks and you have an example of how evil gains ground in a society," he said.
"What kind of moral code does a person have that they would venomously attack someone or organization while hiding behind a pseudonym?" he asked.
Groene said the WNTA's key role is to object to "government confiscation of your money to pay for our or your personal needs."
"To enjoy freedom involves effort," he said.