The Holocaust Museum Will Reopen This Month After More Than a Year of Renovations

The museum is now double in size, and has expanded its role as a center for education and research.

By Morgan Kinney May 24, 2019 Published in the June 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Revamped: The Holocaust Museum Houston, Lester and Sue Smith Campus

When Holocaust Museum Houston opens its doors again on June 22 after more than a year of renovations (and a stint in temporary digs), visitors will encounter a renamed museum—Holocaust Museum Houston, Lester and Sue Smith Campus—now doubled in size, with a new 200-seat auditorium, and an expanded role as a center for Holocaust education and research and the ongoing fight against injustice and prejudice. “The whole experience in our museum is one of action. It’s not a passive experience,” explains CEO Kelly J. Zúñiga. “It’s about learning, yes, but it’s also about what can you do?

Houston, it’s time to visit—or revisit—this extraordinary institution. Below, a few things to expect:

Keeping the memory alive

The permanent “Bearing Witness” exhibit immerses visitors among physical artifacts such as the Hanne Frank, a Danish fishing boat used to evacuate Jews and their relatives to safety in Sweden, as well as one of the German rail cars that ferried millions of Jews to their deaths in the roughly 42,000 concentration camps across Europe. Museumgoers will interact with Houston Holocaust survivors through high-tech holograms that are able to respond to more than a thousand prompts. “We use artificial intelligence and voice-recognition technology so that when you go ask a question, the person just responds,” Zúñiga says. “It’s like you were one-on-one with a survivor.”

Highlighting ongoing crises

Another permanent exhibit, “And Still I Write: Young Diarists on War and Genocide,” features 12 “electronic diaries,” including the famous one penned by young Anne Frank as well as lesser-known entries from others who have documented the world’s ongoing human-rights abuses, pulling from everything from World War II journals to contemporary blogs that record life under ISIS in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

An authoritative center for scholarship

The Houston museum is the only bilingual Holocaust institution in the country, and its growing library collection of more than 10,000 volumes continues to add Spanish-language books. Additionally, 285 oral testimonies from Houston survivors are now digitized and searchable. And a new endowment pays for training and teaching materials to assist educators across Latin America. “The bilingual nature of what we do is so important,” Zúñiga says. “We want to educate as many people as possible.”

A different kind of butterfly center

Thousands of butterflies—handmade by children from across the world over two decades—will now have a permanent home, suspended from the three-story Jerold B. Katz Family Butterfly Loft to serve as a reminder of the children lost in the Nazi death camps. “I think it’s not only an art piece, but a statement,” Zúñiga says. “It’s hard to quantify when you say that 1.5 million children were murdered in the Holocaust, but looking at these butterflies, it sends a really clear message.”

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