Arts / Museums

The Book Smugglers Who Defied the Nazis — Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum’s New Exhibit Chronicles a Stunning True Story

Risking Everything to Save Vital Printed Treasures

BY // 06.22.21

“Would you risk your life to save a book”? That’s a question that most people would answer with a definitive “No!” What book is worth sacrificing one’s life for?

Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis, a moving and important exhibit that opens at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum on June 23, answers that question and much more. It’s one of the season’s cultural highlights, and experiencing it opens up worlds of understanding, courage and beauty.

 

Vilna (also known as Vilnius) Lithuania, is the setting for this remarkable story, and it’s one that is almost too fantastical to be true. But it is — sadly and inspiringly — a real life story. (The exhibit is based on David E. Fishman’s award-winning book of the same name, a work that anyone interested in Jewish studies, World War II and history in general should read.)

It all began in June of 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Two days later, Vilna fell to the Nazis. In the period immediately preceeding the Holocaust, the city boasted a diverse population of 193,000, 28 percent of which was estimated to be Jewish. It was also home to a rich and important repository of Judaica, including books and other documents, housed in institutions such as the Yiddish Scientific Institute and the Strashun Library.

The Nazis corralled approximately 40,000 Jews into two ghettoes in Vilna, in an area that previously was home to 6,000 people. Living conditions were deplorable, unsanitary and, frankly, inhuman. The German government, in addition to attempting to wipe out the Jews of Europe (among other groups of human beings), wanted to confiscate works of art, including paintings, original sculptures, books and other documents. The materials that Vilna’s Jewish citizens had collected and organized were under attack, along with their owners and caretakers.

In the ghettoes, a library was secretly formed, helmed by Herman Kruk, a noted librarian and scholar. Reading and writing persisted, despite the conditions. The spirit of the Jews of Vilna was not to be quashed. They rescued thousands upon thousands of priceless and rare manuscripts and books from where they were held in libraries and homes by hiding them on their bodies and housing them in bunkers dug beneath the ghettoes.

It is truly a life-affirming and awe-inspiring chapter in human history, and it’s brought to life in respectful and engaging manner in this exhibit. The new exhibit focuses on five members of The Paper Brigade through diaries, drawings, poetry, music and other Judaica.

And it all can be seen in Dallas.

 

A book about struggle, tragedy, and passion for learning.

The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is conveniently located one block from the DART West End Station, between Market and Lamar Streets, and visitors arriving by car can park in the museum’s garage, which is on Houston Street directly across from the main entrance. The West End District is home to scores of excellent restaurants and pubs, as well as interesting shops and other cultural institutions, so make a day of it in one of Dallas’ most dynamic neighborhoods.

What: The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis
When: June 23, through January 2, 2022
Where: Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum

To learn even more about the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum and its important mission, check out its full website.

Connecting the inspired with the extraordinary

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