April 1, 2024

Holocaust Museum teaches dark history to enlighten police

G. Lyon Photography

The Holocaust Museum Houston’s $34-million expansion, finished in 2019, created a three-story building that doubled the space while keeping an iconic sloped concrete roof and a towering cylinder. The shapes evoke the chimneys of the crematoriums used by Nazi Germany to exterminate 6 million Jews and other persecuted people during World War II.

While serving as a sobering reminder of dark history, the fourth-largest museum of its kind in the United States — situated in the Greater Southeast Management District — is also an educational facility, teaching the dangers of hatred, prejudice, and apathy in current times.

One of the museum’s education programs is a one-day course for law enforcement officers.

“Law Enforcement and Society” classes are “based on a model developed at the national level by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Anti-Defamation League in Washington D.C.,” said HMH Chief Learning and Interpretation Officer Wendy Warren. “We’ve been offering it for about 20 years now.”

(Watch a stirring video about the classes).

Working with the Anti-Defamation League Southwest Region and the Houston Police Department, the eight-hour course offers training for recruits, in-service, and command-level law enforcement officers to examine the role of law enforcement during the years of the Holocaust and its different role in today’s society.

Holocaust survivor Bill Orlin with visitors

According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, “in 1936, police forces across Germany became centralized under SS leader Heinrich Himmler…and became instruments of state-sponsored racial, political, social, and criminal persecution.”

Now, with officers responsible for enforcing hate crime laws, “We help law enforcement understand what happened and how they can protect democracy today,” Warren said. “We give them a tour of our gallery and analyze photos of th e (past)time, and our partners from the ADL Southwest Region present the role of law enforcement today.”

The ADL’s stated mission is to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

Law enforcement officers respond positively to the course, Warren said, with many officers returning more than once to attend the class.

“It’s discussion-based, so they learn something new every time,” she said.

“The Houston Police Department has asked us to provide the course more often, but with current staffing we can only do it four or five times a year right now,” said Warren.

HPD Lt. Patrick LeBlanc leads tour

Attendees have also included officers the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Austin Police Department recruits. While learning how to preserve democracy, they earn Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education credits.

The museum’s education department also trains teachers, offers fellowships and workshops, and even has a course for medical residents, while hosting school field trips and presenting Educators in Motion programs in schools. Last year, 30,000 students participated.

“We want young people to come here,” Warren said. “We are always looking for new audiences to educate and students can always come to the museum for free.”

During the Hamas-Israel War, anti-Jewish acts in the U.S. have increased 400 percent, Warren said, “but Houston has not had the same increase.”

Education programs such HMH’s can make a difference.


— by Marene Gustin