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More Than $49M Expansion Begins At Holocaust Museum Houston

The expansion project aims to double the size of the museum


Houston Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Museum Houston’s expansion project that will double its size has begun with the relocation of two of their most valuable historical artifacts, the rescue boat Hanne Frank and a World War II-era rail car of the type used by Nazis to transport their victims to concentration camps.

The Houston Chronicle reports , in what was a slow and careful operation using a high-capacity crane, the two museum pieces were relocated from their place in the patio, where they were previously on display, to another area 120 feet away to protect them from the risk of being damaged during the construction project.

TNT Crane & Rigging, the company hired by the museum to move the artifacts, took about two hours to finish the work.

“There is so much safety and calculations involved,” said Cody Viteritto, a technician working with the TNT crew. He noted that while moving heavy objects of this size involve roughly the same kind of procedures, the historical artifacts required special attention. “Critical consideration, in this case, was the value of the items,” he said.

Hanne Frank is one of the fishing boats that were used by Christians in Denmark who risked their lives during three weeks in 1943 while ferrying to Sweden more than 7,200 Jews — along with roughly 700 people from other population groups — and evading Nazi occupation troops who were intent on deporting them to Germany.

According to the museum, although the name of the boat resembles that of Holocaust victim and writer Anne Frank, there isn’t a known relation with the author of The Diary of a Young Girl. The ship was initially called Jørn Finne but later re-registered in 1985 with the Royal Danish Register of Shipping.

The Houston Holocaust Museum

The Houston museum is the only one in the U.S. that has a Danish rescue boat from World War II.

The rail car, a historical piece weighing 10.5 metric tons, also represented a challenge during the move.

“It took years for us to be able to acquire that rail car,” recalled Peter N. Berkowitz, a former member of the museum’s board that managed that acquisition.

Berkowitz, currently the chairman of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, said that one of the characteristics of that rail car is that it has a design that was produced in small quantities during the Nazi era in Germany. It was also designated as a historical artifact by Alfred Gottwaldt, the worldwide authority in World War II’s German railroad history, who died in 2015.

Transferring the artifacts “is very important because now they will literally be inside the museum for the first time,” said Kelly J. Zúñiga, the museum’s CEO. It will allow for better preservation of these historical artifacts, as construction has already started around the old building at 5401 Caroline St.

The construction project, which officially began Monday with a projected cost of $49.4 million, will more than double the museum’s space to a total of 57,000 square feet. At its scheduled completion in spring 2019, it will become the fourth largest Holocaust museum in the country, according to the spokesperson Robin Cavanaugh.

“We think this is going to be the most beautiful Holocaust museum in the United States,” Zúñiga said. “We have the unique aspect that we teach the stories of the Holocaust through the eyes of our Houston survivors. So it’s very personalized from the Houston perspective. It’s our story, and that makes us extremely unique.”

Chaja Verveer, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Houston, was at the site observing the moving operation of the artifacts.

It was one of those times when “those memories” came to her mind. She was 3 years old when she was transported, without any family member, from the Westerbork to the Bergen-Belsen Nazi camp in Germany in a rail car just like the museum’s.

In reality, “the memory is more physical than anything else; you are too little to know what is going on or to articulate,” Verveer said. The memory is “like a lump in my stomach.”

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