Danish rescue boat to be on display at Houston Holocaust Museum

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- It is thousands of miles from where it was built, and now, miles from the water, but a Danish fishing boat has stories to tell, even on dry land.

It can be seen outside Holocaust Museum Houston, even as the restoration of the wooden boat goes into its fourth year.

It is the same kind of boat that carried some 8,000 Danish Jews and their families out of the reach of Nazis in 1943. Consider that they were evacuated in only 3 weeks, the feat is astounding.

Danes considered Jews as friends and neighbors in their communities. And when a neighbor was threatened, they helped them. They were stowed aboard the small fishing boats, which could carry as few as two, or as many as a dozen.

Sometimes the journey to sanctuary in Sweden, just across the channel, took about an hour. Other times, it took more than a day, depending on the weather, the waves, and the German u-boats. The crew risked their lives to help them.

The fishing boat now at Holocaust Museum Houston was not among the boats that carried Jews to safety, but it belonged to the father and grandfather of the man who donated it to the museum.

Oddly enough, a hate call to a man who was fundraising to acquire the boat helped raise more money. The caller suggested the boat be burned rather than restored. Talk radio host Glenn Beck picked up the story, and got the attention of generous people. Money started pouring in from around the world, adding up to about $400,000 for the Houston museum's project.

Among those working to restore it, is former Houston FBI agent Walter Hansen, who now spends his time restoring vintage boats, and enjoying professional and commercial success doing it. This project is special. "Imagine being put down below deck, hatches closed, pitch black on a rolling sea. You have to empathize with all they went through," he said.

It is in a large steel cradle beside a rail car from Europe, of the same age and design in which Jews were carried to Nazi camps. For those in the rail car, there was no hope. For those on the boats, they were surrounded by it.

They survived because their neighbors, and people with a conscience, cared. They're called 'up standers' by the museum's Ira Perry. "They're just an ordinary person doing the right thing when confronted with injustice. That's the message we like the boat to tell.

The boat will be dedicated this weekend, and will be open to the public Monday.
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