Starting January 20, 2008
Permanent Exhibit Hall
This rare Holocaust-era artifact tells the heroic story of a three-week period in 1943 when Christians in Denmark risked their own lives to save more than 7,200 Jews from almost certain execution at the hands of Nazi Germany.
The authentic fishing boat of the type used to ferry Jews and 700 others from small towns along the Danish coast to safety in Sweden under cover of darkness was located and donated to the Museum in 2007. It was transported from Denmark and officially installed as part of the Museum’s Permanent Exhibition “Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers" in ceremonies on Jan. 20, 2008.
The boat has been intentionally placed next to the Museum’s Holocaust-era railcar, built in 1942, to help the Museum teach students and other visitors the continuing importance of each individual’s responsibility to act when confronted with injustice.
The railcar and other artifacts tell the stories of incredible evil committed by ordinary people against their very own neighbors. They remind visitors of the horrible injustices that occurred while much of the world stood idly by and did little or nothing in response. By placing this artifact alongside the railcar, Museum visitors have the opportunity to also learn of the heroic efforts of good people who refused to be bystanders and did the right thing, even at the risk of their own lives.
The boat, carrying the signal letters XP 2853, was once named the “Jørn Finne” but was officially renamed the “Hanne Frank” in January 1985, according to the Royal Danish Register of Shipping. However, the name has no known connection to Anne Frank, the young German girl who hid from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic until she was betrayed and eventually died in the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Her diary subsequently became one of the world’s most widely read books about the Holocaust.
The fishing boat – 37.1 feet long, 13.9 feet wide and 5.7 feet deep – was located, documented and acquired after an extensive effort spanning several years. Former Museum Chair Peter Berkowitz and wife Charlotte began the search in September 2001 while visiting Denmark but were told all such boats had fallen into disrepair such that they were no longer traceable or had been destroyed.
Honorary Consul General Ray Jens Daugbjerg in Denmark’s Houston office was contacted, as was Vice Consul Anna Thompson-Holiday, but the search again failed to locate an artifact.
But in 2006, while visiting Denmark on vacation, then-Museum Executive Director Susan Myers located a boat broker in the small town of Gilleleje who said he knew of such a boat.
Broker Jan Ferdinandsen of the firm N.B. Ferdinandsen & Sønner – the largest boat brokerage in Denmark, Norway and Sweden – then promised not only to locate the boat, but to arrange for its refurbishing to its original condition and then to donate it to the Museum in memory of his father and father-in-law, who both were honored by the Yad Vashem museum in Israel for their own part in the Danish boat rescue of Jews in 1943.
The ordeal began in the first few days of October 1943 when the Germans began a nationwide action to round up all Danish Jews for deportation to the concentration camps. Six percent of Danish Jews were captured, but Denmark’s citizens revolted and helped 7,200 make it safely to Sweden along with 700 non-Jewish relatives.
Gilleleje’s own 500 households cared for hundreds of refugees, hiding them in the local church attic before ferrying them across to Höganäs in Sweden. The church eventually was stormed by the Nazis.
The Houston exhibit was made possible by generous support. The boat was refurbished in Denmark by Gilleleje Badebyggeri. Project funding was provided locally by The Smith Foundation and the Consulate of the Kingdom of Denmark. Architectural services were donated by Mark S. Mucasey and Associates; A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S provided transport from Denmark; and Linbeck Group LP provided construction management. Other firms donating their support for the project included AYG Construction, Ltd.; Cemex, USA; Groves Industrial Supply; Haynes Whaley Associates; Keystone Concrete Placement; M&M Lighting, L.P.; Sterling Steel Company; Summit Steel; TNT Crane & Rigging, Inc.; Stray Cat Transport, Inc.; Trio Electric; Triple-S Steel Supply; and Union Pacific Railroad.
Painting services for the project were provided by Troop 1190 of the Boy Scouts of America.
The boat and an accompanying video exhibit about its use are open for public viewing free of charge. Viewing hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.