1/18/2008
 
Official Dedication Ceremonies Set for Jan. 20, 2008
 
Danish Rescue Boat to Tell the Story of Heroes Who Risked Their Own Lives to Save Others from the Nazis
 

HOUSTON, TX (Jan. 18, 2008) Holocaust Museum Houston will host official dedication ceremonies Sunday, Jan. 20, 2008, to install a rare Holocaust-era artifact that will be used to tell 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.

An 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 donated to the Museum and will be opened to the public as part of the Museum’s permanent exhibition "Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers."

Formal dedication ceremonies, also open to the public, are scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Museum, at 5401 Caroline St. in Houston’s Museum District. Admission to the Museum is always free.

Speaking at the ceremonies on Sunday will be Danish Ambassador to the United States Friis Arne Petersen. Other participants will include the Honorable Ray Jens Daugbjerg, honorary consul of the Kingdom of Denmark in Houston; the Honorable Anna Holliday, honorary vice consul of the Kingdom of Denmark in Houston; the Rev. Robert Moore of Christ the King Lutheran Church and Senior Rabbi David Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel.

The day’s activities will include special performances by "The Little Vikings," a Danish choir composed of children from across Houston’s Danish community.

Museum Chair Walter Hecht said the boat was placed next to the Museum’s Holocaust-era railcar, also 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.

"Our railcar and other artifacts tell the stories of incredible evil committed by ordinary people against their very own neighbors. They remind us of the horrible injustices that occurred while much of the world stood idly by and did nothing," he said. "By placing this artifact alongside our railcar, our visitors can 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."

"Only by being confronted with this kind of evidence of the past, and only by reminding future generations of their responsibility to prevent it, can we ensure that such atrocities are never allowed to happen again, to any group of people, anywhere in the world," said Hecht.

Hecht said Sunday’s events would be an unusual "celebration" for the Museum.

"Normally here at the Museum, the Holocaust does not lend itself to any type of celebration," he said. "But Sunday, we will have the unique opportunity to focus on the 'good' in people around the world – to honor individuals who refused to be bystanders and who stood up for others in the face of evil and injustice at the risk of their very own lives. We will have the opportunity today to recognize true heroes and to publicly acknowledge their efforts, and that is indeed cause for celebration."

The boat, built in 1942 in Denmark and 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 apparently has no relation 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, Berkowitz said.

In 2006, while visiting Denmark on vacation, 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 & Sons A/S – 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 1942 condition and then to donate it to the Museum in memory of his father Niels Ferdinandsen and father-in-law Johan Jorgensen, 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; E.R. Hawthorne & Co., Inc.; 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.

Once officially installed at the Museum on January 20, 2008, the boat exhibit will be 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.

Holocaust Museum Houston opened in March 1996 and has experienced steady growth since. By the end of October, more than 1 million visitors will have passed through its doors. The Museum promotes awareness and educates the public of the dangers of prejudice, hatred and violence against the backdrop of the Holocaust by fostering remembrance, understanding and education.

For more information about Holocaust Museum Houston or this exhibit, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.

 
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Holocaust Museum Houston is a member of the Houston Museum District Association and is located in Houston's Museum District.

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