In fall 2023, New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust will launch its first exhibition developed for elementary school-aged students. Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark will commemorate the 80th anniversary of one of the most effective episodes of mass resistance in modern history.
Designed for visitors ages 9 and up, the exhibition will use age-appropriate themes of separation, bravery, and resilience to help young people make connections to their own lives and reflect on the dangers of prejudice—as well as their own potential for compassionate, moral, and courageous collective action and upstanding.
Using state of the art technology and creative storytelling, including dynamic hologram technology, Courage to Act will immerse visitors in this inspiring story. Together, Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors of all ages mobilized to create one of the most effective—and exceptional—examples of mass resistance and escape in modern history. Despite the enormous risk, these ordinary citizens united against Nazism and saved nearly 95% of Denmark’s Jewish population.
In a climate of widespread antisemitism and Holocaust denial, Courage to Act will address a critical need by reaching younger children, whose Holocaust education in New York City public schools typically begins in the eighth grade.
Since opening 25 years ago, the Museum has educated over two million visitors, including hundreds of thousands of school children, predominantly middle and high schoolers. More recently, since 2020, the Museum has expanded programming beyond its walls and created more than 100 public programs a year that bring its mission to a global audience.
“As our Museum marks its 25th anniversary, we recognize the increasingly important role institutions such as ours must fill in the next 25 years. As the number of Holocaust survivors decreases and we confront resurgent antisemitism, we must proactively engage new generations in the fight for a better world. Our charge is to inspire and equip young people to be compassionate upstanders and leaders,” says Jack Kliger, Museum President and CEO.
In support of the exhibition, the Consul General of Denmark in New York, Ambassador Berit Basse says, “Educating our children about the Holocaust and the story of the courage and compassion of the people that stood up against it in Denmark, is a crucial initiative in the fight against hate crime and antisemitism. Our children are our hope for a better future. I am most proud and honored to support this exhibition.”
Courage to Act is designed by the award-winning studio Local Projects, a renowned firm specializing in the use of technology to tell stories and evoke emotional connection.
“We are excited to bring this history to life for young visitors and to move them through this unique story with engaging design, sophisticated technology and animation, and young, heroic characters that resonate with students and families alike,” said Jake Barton, Founder of Local Projects.
The exhibition will feature interactive Discovery Walls, allowing visitors to look back in time as they open windows, part curtains, or step into a depiction of the Copenhagen Synagogue and are transported back to 1943 via video, photographs, and audio. The exhibition will also feature three holographic narrators, based on real individuals, who will share experiences of the Danish occupation and rescue throughout the exhibition.
The compelling story of the Danish Rescue itself begins in 1940, when the Danish government successfully negotiated with their German occupiers for limited self-autonomy and refused to implement the antisemitic policies imposed upon the rest of European Jewry. But, by the end of September 1943 any semblance of cooperation deteriorated, and the Nazis planned again to round up and deport thousands of Jews, on the High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah no less. In an improvised act of resistance, Danes from all walks of life worked to hide their Jewish neighbors any way they could.
Less than a week later, Sweden announced it would accept all Danish Jews as refugees. Three hundred Danish vessels – from fishing boats to kayaks – made perilous and clandestine passages across the Øresund Sound to Sweden, ferrying 7,000 refugees, or over 95% of all Jews within Denmark, to safety. The compassionate response of Swedish communities saved those Jews who reached their shores from the concentration camps.
Unlike most other countries in Europe, Denmark also protected the property of Jewish refugees. At the war’s end, it received its returning population with open arms.
Also featured in the exhibition is the story of the Gerda III, one of many small vessels used in the Danish Rescue. The Gerda III alone saved an estimated 300 Jews in groups of 10 – 15 at a time on clandestine journeys across the Øresund Sound to Sweden. Twenty-two-year-old Henny Sinding Sundø, who led the Gerda III’s rescue activities, will be among the exhibition’s narrators telling stories of their experiences during the Danish Rescue. Donated to the Museum by the Danish Parliament in 1989, the Gerda III is currently docked at The Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.
“As we sit at a critical juncture – fewer Holocaust survivors here to tell their stories directly, and an alarming rise in antisemitic and hate-fueled rhetoric – the future must include education for all audiences. Time and again we see how connections can be forged across cultural, generational, and linguistic barriers by sharing stories from the past. Courage to Act shares the experiences of ordinary people who became real-life heroes. Their stories are relatable to visitors from all walks of life and will inspire children – our future leaders – to be guided by compassion and inclusion,” said Ulrika Citron, of the Exhibition Design Advisory Committee.
“As a mother, as an educator, and proudly Jewish, I am honored to support this incredible exhibition for children and families. Courage to Act inspires children from all walks of life to take a stand against prejudice and bigotry. Educating the next generation is one of the most important steps we can take to honor those who came before us and combat hatred that is still happening all over the world,” says Mayim Bialik, actress, host of Jeopardy, and exhibition donor.
“As the child of Holocaust Survivors, my life and career are guided by the belief that all children are entitled to a quality education which includes a moral and ethical curriculum. Courage to Act, the new children’s exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, uses the unforgettable story of the historic rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943 to teach children how to be upstanders and not bystanders and to stand up to tyranny and injustice. Helping the Museum to bring this exhibition to reality is one of the proudest accomplishments.” – Regina Skyer, Trustee of Museum of Jewish Heritage and Founder of Law Offices of Regina Skyer and Associates, New York’s premier special education law firm.
“As one of the largest providers of special education services in New York City, Yes I Can impresses the importance of being a responsible community member to all of our students and families. We are proud to sponsor this important exhibition, which our students will visit next fall,” says Simcha Feller, CEO of Yes I Can and Major Donor to Courage to Act.
Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark is made possible with leadership support from Regina Skyer, Jonathan Goldberg, and Family.
Generous support is provided by presenting partners Patti Askwith Kenner and Family; and Yes I Can; with additional support from The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation; Anonymous; The Bialik Fund for Freilachkeit; the Gray Foundation; Stacey, Marc, Elliott & Jared Saiontz; and Mark and Jane Wilf.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2022, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to Never Forget. The Museum is committed to the crucial mission of educating diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The third-largest Holocaust museum in the world , the Museum of Jewish Heritage anchors the southernmost tip of Manhattan, completing the cultural and educational landscape it shares with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage maintains a collection of almost 40,000 artifacts, photographs, documentary films, and survivor testimonies and contains classrooms, a 375-seat theater (Edmond J. Safra Hall), special exhibition galleries, a resource center for educators, and a memorial art installation, Garden of Stones, designed by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage is located at 36 Battery Place, NYC.
Currently on view, The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do. also on view, Survivors: Faces of Life After the Holocaust, featuring photographer Martin Schoeller’s portraits of Holocaust survivors, on view through June 18, 2023.
Take a look-back at the Museum’s past exhibition, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.