New Artifacts from Italian Partisan on Display at Holocaust Museum Houston

HOUSTON, TX (Aug. 3, 2009) – Freedom-fighter, as both war-hero and smuggler, Hermann Wygoda’s personal artifacts have been added to the permanent exhibit “Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers” at Holocaust Museum Houston.

The Resistance section of the exhibit currently features a new display showcasing memorabilia from Wygoda’s life during World War II. A Polish Jew who lost his mother, brother and son in the Treblinka death camp, he remained defiant throughout the war, initially as a Warsaw ghetto smuggler and ultimately becoming commander of the Bevilacqua Assault Division of more than 2,400 Italian Partisan fighters who liberated Savona, Italy during April 1945.

Wygoda’s personal items on display include photographs of the “comandante” holding a submachine gun, partisan military order documents and the bronze star he received from American General Mark Clark in June 1946 “for heroic achievement connected with military operations.” All items are on loan to Holocaust Museum Houston by the family.

The permanent exhibit also features audio and visual documents depicting Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust, as well as an authentic World War II railcar such as those used to carry millions of people to their deaths and a 1942 Danish fishing boat similar to the rescue vessels that saved 7,000 Jews from Nazi Germany-occupied lands.

The Wygoda display and all of the other exhibit materials can be viewed daily. Free guided tours, which last up to two hours, are offered Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and also cover the Museum’s two changing exhibits. Weekend drop-in tours are offered at 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free.

Currently on view through Feb. 7, 2010 is “Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews during the Holocaust.” The photographic exhibit depicts the heroic stories of Albanian Muslims who saved Jews – those of Albanian origin and refugees alike – from extermination despite great danger to themselves. By the war’s end, almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation had been saved.

Besa means literally "to keep the promise." One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family. So when the Germans occupied Albania in 1943, the local population refused to comply with the Nazis’ orders to turn over lists of Jews residing in Albania. Albanians took fleeing Jews into their homes, lived with them as family and protected them at great peril.

The exhibition stems from a five-year project by Colorado-based photographer Norman Gershman, who specializes in portraiture, and documents the story of 65 Albanian families.

Opening Aug. 28, 2009 is "A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People." The exhibit is an interactive experience that allows visitors to follow in John Paul II’s footsteps from his childhood to his role as head of the world’s largest church. The exhibit includes photographs, video footage, documents and artifacts recording the extraordinary contributions of the pope to relations between the Catholic and Jewish faiths. It includes about 70 artifacts on loan from 10 museums and private collections that help illustrate the pope's association with the Jewish community from the time of his childhood and how these life-long associations shaped his papacy, the church and Jewish-Catholic relations.

Included among the artifacts on view will be a white Zuccheto, or skull cap, bearing the pope's initials and worn during his visit to Israel in 2000. Also included will be the walking staff used to help him approach the Western Wall.

Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy. Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.

For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.

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