The Holocaust Museum Houston has marked the attendance of its one-millionth visitor, by acquiring a very rare artifact of the Holocaust era. It’s an old fishing boat, the same type the fishermen of Denmark used to rescue thousands of Jews from the Nazis. Houston Public Radio’s Jim Bell reports.
It’s one of the great untold stories of World War II. In 1943, in Nazi-occupied Denmark, the Danes learned the Germans were going to deport Denmark’s Jewish population of about 7,500 people to concentration camps. The people of Denmark decided they couldn’t allow that to happen, so the call went out to fishermen to use their boats to evacuate their fellow citizens to neutral Sweden. It took several weeks, but the Danish fishermen saved the lives of thousands of Jews.
Today, a Danish fishing boat from that era arrived at the Holocaust Museum Houston, where Museum Director Susan Myers says it will bear witness to the story of the Danish people.
“We have to rejoice for the righteous Gentiles, the rescuers, the people who, beyond everything else that was going on in their lives, decided that they were going to make a difference in someone’s lives, and they were going to see to it that these people survived.”
Myers found the boat in Denmark and arranged for it to be donated to the Holocaust Museum. It’s the same kind of boat used in the evacuation, and it was built the year before in 1942, but Myers says there’s no way of knowing if it was part of that flotilla. Whether it was or wasn’t, Myers says it’s still a symbol of the human decency and courage of the people of Denmark.
“A lot of them put their lives at risk, their family lives at risk, but this is a country who said ‘they’re just like us, they’re no different, and we’re going to rescue them’, so this is an opportunity for us all to rejoice.”
Holocaust Museum volunteer Mac Catzin says he has a good friend who, as a small child, escaped from Denmark with his family on one of those fishing boats.
“And after the war, and he’d gotten settled in the United States and so forth, he went back to Denmark and found the guy who piloted the boat that took him across to Sweden, and thanked him. It was just kind of a heart rending story.”
The Danish fishing boat will become part of the permanent exhibit at the Holocaust Museum Houston. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.