“Would you risk your life to save a book?” That is the underlying question of The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis, on view June 23, 2021 through January 2, 2022 at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.
The Book Smugglers is the nearly unbelievable true story of ghetto residents who rescued thousands of rare books and manuscripts by hiding them on their persons, burying them in bunkers, and smuggling them across borders. Set in Vilna, Lithuania, known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” for its Jewish culture rich with art, music, literature, poetry, theater, and opera, a small group of partisans and poets risked everything to save Jewish cultural treasures.
Prior to WWII, literature and art enabled Vilna residents to rise above their everyday persecution. When Vilna’s Jews were forced into the ghetto, the “Paper Brigade” was formed by a group of 40 intellectuals, writers, educators, and activists to save Judaica for the next generation. Together, they rescued Jewish artifacts, books, photographs, works of art, diaries, and literature from the Nazis by smuggling them into the ghetto or hiding them in plain sight.
The Book Smugglers features artifacts and reproductions, including panels with paintings and drawings, photographs, poetry, diaries, testimonies, and music representing the Jewish heritage of Vilna. The exhibition focuses on the history of Vilna, life before WWII, contributions of five members of the Paper Brigade, and the results of their heroic mission.
The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis is curated by Holocaust Museum Houston based on the book by David E. Fishman.