Viewing Dates Extended for Two New Exhibits at Holocaust Museum Houston

HOUSTON, TX (Dec. 21, 2009) – Viewing periods for two new exhibits at Holocaust Museum Houston, including a landmark exhibition on Pope John Paul II and his relationship to the Jewish people, have been extended due to high demand for group tours.

Museum Executive Director Susan Myers said tens of thousands of people already have viewed the exhibits “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People" and "Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust."

The papal exhibit had been scheduled to close on Jan. 3, 2010, but Myers said the Museum's capacity for guided group tours through the end of the year had already been reached even though many schools, churches and other groups were still requesting tour dates.

"These exhibits focus on people who stood up to evil and injustice and who – despite risk to themselves – took the right actions and made the correct decisions. Their stories are those of heroes, and we want to be sure as many people as possible have an opportunity to view these exhibits," Myers said.

The exhibit on Pope John Paul II will now close March 21, 2010, and the Besa exhibit will end on April 4, 2010. Both exhibits are on view in the Museum’s Morgan Family Center, 5401 Caroline St., in Houston’s Museum District. Admission is free.

To schedule a free docent-led tour of either exhibit or the Museum's permanent exhibit "Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers" for a group of 10 or more, visit the Museum Web site at www.hmh.org and complete the group tour request form under the "Plan Your Visit" tab or call 713-942-8000, ext. 302.

In the course of his papacy, John Paul II shattered the chain of 2,000 years of painful history between Catholics and Jews. He was the first pope since the first century to enter a synagogue, officially visit and recognize the State of Israel and formally express regret for the Catholic Church's past treatment of Jewish people.

More than an historical exhibit, “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” 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.

This exhibit draws its name from the pope's 1993 appeal marking the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in which he said, "As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to first be a blessing to one another."

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.

The exhibit was created and produced by Xavier University of Cincinnati, Hillel Jewish Student Center of Cincinnati, and The Shtetl Foundation of New York. The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati served as lead financial sponsor with major underwriting by Xavier University.

The exhibit is underwritten locally by the Marek Family Foundation; the Hildebrand Fund; Margaret E. and Kenneth T. Snyder, Sr.; The Linbeck Family Charitable Foundation; The Strake Foundation; Bank of Texas; Grocers Supply Co., Inc.; the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation; Moez Mangalji; Malik Waliany; Moes Nasser; Amin Mawji; Akbar Mohamed; Sadru Momin; and Alnoor Bandali; with special thanks to Continental Airlines, official airline of Holocaust Museum Houston.

Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews during the Holocaust” depicts the heroic stories of Albanian Muslims who showed a heart-melting kindness and righteous determination to save Jews – those of Albanian origin and refugees alike – from extermination despite great danger to themselves.

Albania, a European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded where other European nations failed in dealing with Nazi Germany. Prior to World War II, some 200 Jews lived in Albania. After Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, hundreds of Jews from Yugoslavia, Germany, Greece, Austria and Serbia crossed the border into Albania. By the war’s end, almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation had been saved.

The exhibition stems from a five-year project by Colorado-based photographer Norman Gershman, who set out to collect the names of righteous, non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. He discovered that some of the names were of Albanian Muslims. He then began a quest to meet and photograph the Albanian rescuers or their descendents. During his interviews, when he asked why they had rescued Jews, the resounding response was "Besa," a code of honor deeply rooted in Albanian culture and incorporated in the faith of Albanian Muslims.

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.

Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel has since recognized 63 Albanians as “Righteous Among the Nations.”

The exhibit is traveled by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum and is underwritten by the Marek Family Foundation; the Hildebrand Fund; Margaret E. and Kenneth T. Snyder, Sr.; The Linbeck Family Charitable Foundation; The Strake Foundation; Bank of Texas; Grocers Supply Co., Inc.; and the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation; with special thanks to Continental Airlines, official airline of Holocaust Museum Houston.

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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