The Book Smugglers

“Would you risk your life to save a book?” That is the underlying question of Holocaust Museum Houston’s new exhibition The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis, making its world debut in the Museum’s Mincberg Gallery. The exhibition is curated by HMH’s Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions and based on the book of the same name by David E. Fishman.

The Book Smugglers is the nearly unbelievable true story of ghetto residents who rescued thousands of rare books and manuscripts by hiding them on their persons, burying them in bunkers and smuggling them across borders. Set in Vilna, Lithuania, also known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” for their robust Jewish culture rich with art, music, literature, poetry, theater and opera, a small group of partisans and poets risked everything to save Jewish cultural treasures.

Prior to WWII, literature and art enabled Vilna residents to rise above their everyday persecution and enjoy a world of beauty in sound and color. Cultural activity compensated for the Jews’ difficult political and economic situation. Once Vilna’s Jews were forced to live in a ghetto, the “Paper Brigade” was formed by a group of 40 intellectuals, writers, educators and activists to save Judaica for the next generation. Together, they rescued Jewish artifacts, books, scrolls, photographs, works of art, diaries and literature from the hands of the Nazis by either smuggling them into the ghetto or hiding them in plain sight. 

The exhibition consists of approximately 100 artifacts and reproductions on display, including panels with paintings and drawings, photographs, poetry, diaries, testimonies and music representing the Jewish heritage of Vilna. Featuring themes of resistance and persistence of cultural identity, the exhibition focuses on the complicated history of Vilna, life before WWII, contributions of five members of the Paper Brigade and the results of their heroic mission.    

The Book Smugglers exhibition is a partnership between Holocaust Museum Houston, David E. Fishman, Moreshet Archive, Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center,The Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York, The Judaica Collection of the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, Vilnius, Lithuania.

The Book Smugglers exhibition is funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.





United Airlines is the official airline of Holocaust Museum Houston

March 13, 2020 — August 16, 2020

M – F: 9 am to 5 pm
Sa: 10 am to 5 pm
Su: Noon to 5 pm

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A special thanks to our sponsors

Premier Sponsor
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc.
Presenting Sponsors
Bruce and Rhona Caress
The Lewis and Joan Lowenstein Foundation
Title Sponsors
Paula Goldstein
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous
Lead Sponsors
Lorrie Block
Krista and Michael Dumas – In Honor of Jack Appel
Dr. Michael and Linda Eisemann
Denise and Steve Estrin
Dr. W. K. Horwitz
Joe and Cathy Jankovic - In Honor of Their Children and Grandchildren
Sterling Family Foundation