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Holocaust Museum Houston Will Unveil The Book Smugglers Exhibition in Houston Before Sending It on a National Tour

Sorting Books.jpg

Sorting Books

Image caption: Mikhal Kovner, brother of Partisan Abba Kovner, sorting books; Vilna, 1943

Image credit: Courtesy of the Moreshet Archive, Israel

During World War II, a group of courageous Jews living in Lithuania’s Vilna ghetto made it their mission to save a vast number of Jewish manuscripts, books, photographs, works of art, and diaries from the Nazis. This extraordinary group, consisting of 40 intellectuals, educators, and activists, became known as the Paper Brigade.

A new exhibition curated by Holocaust Museum Houston’s (HMH) chief curator of collections and exhibitions tells their story. The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis, makes its world debut on March 13, 2020 in the museum’s Mincberg Gallery. Based on the book of the same name, by David E. Fishman, the remarkable exhibit asks the question: “Would you risk your life to save a book?” Fishman worked closely with HMH to make the show a reality. 

Fishman’s scholarly and deeply personal work reminds the reader that the Holocaust was meant not only to destroy the Jewish people but also their culture. Vilna is known as The Jerusalem of Lithuania because its culture is rich in Jewish art, music, literature, theater, and opera. Before the onset of the war, Vilna residents rose above the difficult economic and political circumstances of their lives by embracing the arts. Once they were forced to live in a ghetto, the Paper Brigade was formed to save Judaica for the next generation. Its members rescued these treasures either by smuggling them into the ghetto or hiding them in plain sight. 

Dr. Kelly J. Zúñiga, CEO of Holocaust Museum Houston, states: “We have all been taught when we see something wrong, we need to say something. In the story of The Book Smugglers, the Nazis tried to silence the Jews in Vilna, but they resisted by taking action to save their cultural artifacts. This exhibition honors the heroes of the Paper Brigade and reminds us of the importance of taking action for good in our collective society. What you say and what you do matters.” 

Consisting of approximately 100 artifacts and reproductions, including panels with paintings and drawings; photographs; poetry; diaries; testimonies; and music, this important premiere represents Vilna’s abundant Jewish heritage. It focuses on Vilna’s complicated history, life before WWII, the heroism of the Paper Brigade, and contributions of five of its members. The themes of resistance and persistence of cultural identity are front and center.

On view in Houston until August 16, 2020, The Book Smugglers exhibition will travel on to Holocaust and human rights museums in New York, Dallas, Detroit, and Chicago.

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


Premiere 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 Apel; Dr. Michael and Linda Eisemann; Denise and Steve Estrin; Dr. W. K. Horwitz; Joeand Cathy Jankovic, in honor of their children and grandchildren; and the Sterling Family Foundation. 

About Holocaust Museum Houston

Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH), Lester and Sue Smith Campus,is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. It was founded in 1996 by Houston-area Holocaust survivors, their descendants, and members of the community and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The museum is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims who lost their lives during this terrible period in history, and honoring the survivors’ legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, HMH teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice, and apathy.

After two years and a $34 million expansion, HMH reopened in June 2019. Now 57,000 square feet, HMH is the nation's fourth largest Holocaust museum. Fully bilingual in English and Spanish, the new three-story structure houses a welcome center, four permanent galleries, two changing exhibition galleries, classrooms, research library, café, 187-seat indoor theater, and 175-seat outdoor amphitheater. Over 50 screens, mini-theaters, and interactive terminals are featured throughout the museum. 

For more information about The Book Smugglers exhibit, museum hours of opening, and admission: please visit



Image credit: Courtesy of the Moreshet Archive, Israel

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