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A Visit to the Holocaust Museum Houston, Texas

By Edited Apr 3, 2016 0 2

The Holocaust Museum is One That You Will Never Forget

My family and I recently traveled to Houston, Texas to attend the wedding of my cousin’s daughter. We had two full days to do visit attractions in the area, and fortunately the hotel in which we stayed was located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District.

There are 19 museums in this part of town, all within blocks of one another. Divided into four walkable zones, there is a museum for every interest. If you are into the arts, then there is the Museum of Fine Arts, which has beautiful paintings from some of the world’s most well known artists.

If you have young children, then the Children’s Museum will provide hours of hands on activities that will keep them happily occupied while out of the heat.

Both children and adults will be fascinated by the exhibits at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

For those who are into history and the Second World War, then the Holocaust Museum is the place for you to visit.

Being Jewish, Holocaust awareness is a part of our upbringing and is a subject broached in Hebrew School around the third grade. It begins with non-specific lessons on how we need to be kind to to others and what happens when we are not. It is in the sixth grade when children view actual footage of the concentration camps and what happened to Europe’s Jewish population, as well as other groups who did not fit Adolph Hitler’s view of the perfect “Aryan Race”.

It was my children’s choice to visit the Holocaust Museum Houston, so we went.

Holocaust Museum Houston, Texas

By Jacob.jose (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Holocaust Museum Houston's History

My aunt, a native New Yorker who moved to Texas twenty years ago to be near her children and grandchildren, said to me “Who would have thought that a museum such as this would be in the heart of Houston?”. 

She is right. One would expect a museum such as this in a West Coast or East Coast city, but not in the Southwestern part of the United States.

While the museum opened in March of 1996, it began as an idea in 1981. While attending a Holocaust survivor conference in Israel, Siege Izakfson, who lived in Houston, looked around him and saw that his fellow survivors were getting older. What would happen to their stories if left untold?

He returned to Houston with the idea to establish a Holocaust museum. It took nine years for a Holocaust Education Center to be established at the Jewish Federation of Houston. Then, it took more years and the influence of others in the Jewish community to help make this idea a reality.

Holocaust Museum of Houston

By Jacob.jose (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As You Enter the Building

Outside the museum, you will find a memorial of the communities that were destroyed by the Nazis during this time period. These were places that survivors who call Houston their home once lived.

Upon entering the building, you will see security guards and the front desk, where you will purchase your tickets. Students are free and there are AARP discounts for members. Once we received out tickets, we were told to meet  gentleman near the museum exhibit entrance. These people are volunteers who give you a five minute overview of what the museum is about, how to go through it to make the most of your visit, and a few bits of historical information.

Our speaker told us that he could not say ‘Enjoy your visit” because this is not the kind of museum that is enjoyable. These were very true words. Unlike other places I have visited with my family, I could not take pictures. In fact, I did not see anyone with a camera. It is not that kind of tourist attraction.

The Exhibits

Like many museums, there are permanent exhibits and visiting ones.  The first exhibit you walk through is a permanent one called  “Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers” . This is a history of the Jewish people in Europe before the Nazis came to power, and there are multiple examples of anti-Semitism that ran from the beginning of time. One of the first was in the year 306, when Spain banned the marrying and sexual intercourse of non-Jews and Jews.

As you go around you see historical artifacts of the time (suitcases left at the concentration camps, uniforms worn by the prisoners, and papers), you will also see and read about Hitler’s rise to power, the dehumanization of the Jewish people, and how the death camps were established and utilized. Photos of Josef Mengele’s experiments on Jewish children, dwarfs and others deemed unfit are shown.

Throughout the exhibit, you wonder how all of of this happened and no one stepped in to help. Righteous Gentiles, like Oscar Shindler and Raoul Wallenberg those who risked their lives to save the Jewish people, are part of history, but unfortunately, there were too few of them.

Finally, you reach the end when the liberation takes place and what happened to the survivors once the camps were freed. Unfortunately, many died from malnourishment and disease right after the war ended. Their bodies had endured too much.

The photo below is a picture of the museum, with the large rounded building being the main permanent exhibit. You walk in a circle to see what is on display.

Houston Holocaust Museum


By i_am_jim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Powerful Words

After walking through the Bearing Witness exhibition, the second permanent exhibit is what you need to see. A thirty minute documentary is shown in a small, comfortable theater. Depending on the day of the week you are visiting, you will either see Voices or Voices II. These are the testimonials of Houston residents who survived the Holocaust. These men and women share their experiences.

My family and I saw Voices II, and it began with a non-Jewish American soldier sharing his experience as he helped liberate a death camp. He cried as he told the story of what he saw, what he smelled, what he could not believe had happened. He said he could see it today just as he did on the day he first saw it. 

All you watch during the film are senior citizens telling their story so it will not be forgotten. Their words break through your soul as you visualize what they went through in all the vivid details they share. In many ways, it is more powerful than the images you saw in the first part of the tour, as you are hearing the actual words from the mouths of those who unfortunately lived through this nightmare.

The Story of Walter Kase

The first two minutes tell a chilling story of what happened to his sister.

He tells how Americans who liberated him were crying as they saw the unthinkable.

The Outdoor Exhibits

A Danish Rescue Boat and a Holocaust Rail Car

Once you have seen the documentary, it is time to go to the back of the museum to the outdoor exhibits. There is a memorial plaque as you enter the outdoor space and when you turn left, you will climb up a ramp to see the the two exhibits. 

On the left is the Danish Rescue Boat from World War II. In 1943, Denmark ferried over 7,200 Jews and others whom Hitler was after to the neutral entry of Sweden. This was done in boats like the one at the museum. At great risk to their own lives, these Righteous Gentiles were able to save 95% of the Danish Jewish population. 

The Story Behind the Rescue of Danish Jews

Individuals matter...individual actions count

The Railroad Car

Directly across from the fishing boat was an actual railroad car that is believed transported Jews to the death camps. Due to records being destroyed, it cannot be authenticated that this boxcar was used this purpose, but it is the kind that was utilized for this purpose.

As you walk in, you notice the tiny window-one that many young people used to escape from the train as it moved to their certain death. As many as 150 or more people were crushed into these cars for days, many dying upright due to the lack of ventilation and food. It was about 100 degrees the day we visited, and even with one wall of the box car removed, it was like an oven. We were the only ones in there…it was difficult imaging another 100 or more standing side by side with us.

The two exhibits are intentionally placed across from the other to show the juxtaposition of those who helped and those who did not.

Both of these exhibits are open to the public free of charge during normal business hours.

The Butterfly Project

Part of the outreach and education programs

The Art of Gaman

A traveling exhibit

While we were at the museum, a non-permanent exhibit was also on display. "The Art of Gaman" tells the story of the internment of over 120,00o Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of the things those who were interned did to pas the time was art. There are many beautiful items on display, alt made from scraps found around the camp.

The Holocaust Museum Houston has many educational programs for students of all ages, as well as teachers. They have an outreach programs as well.

While visiting a Holocaust museum may not seem like a fun thing to do while on vacation, it was an important place for my family to experience. It is certainly one that left an impact on us.



Aug 31, 2015 4:03pm
I have never been to Houston but this would be a "must-see" if I ever get there.
Sep 4, 2015 7:20pm
This, along with the other museums, make for a wonderful cultural experience. It certainly kept us out of the August heat!
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  1. "Something New. Every Day.." Houston Museum District. 4/08/2015 <Web >
  2. "History of the Holocaust Museum." www.hmh.org. 4/08/2015 <Web >
  3. "Our Museum." www.hmh.org. 4/08/2015 <Web >
  4. "Danish Rescue Boat from World War II." www.hmh.org. 4/08/2015 <Web >
  5. "World War II Holocaust Railcar." www.hmh.org. 4/08/2015 <Web >

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