Thursday, October 10, 2013

Warsaw's New Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Sunday our Warsaw hosts accompanied us to the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened earlier this year. It's an expressive and very beautiful building on an open and park-like space. Under the grass, if you dig down, you would find the bricks and rubble from the Warsaw Ghetto that stood there until the Ghetto Uprising and the final destruction of all the buildings there.

The new museum, on the site of the destroyed ghetto.

Monument to the Ghetto fighters of 1943.
Len and I with two of our hosts, in front of the Ghetto Monument.
Facing the entrance to the museum is the Monument to the Ghetto fighters of 1943. It was built just after the war, and dedicated in 1948. Stones in the monument foundation were quarried in Norway during the occupation of Poland, on order from Nazi leader Albert Speer, to be used in a monument to Hitler. The Hitler monument was never built, but the Jewish survivors managed to obtain the materials for this monument.

Inside, the museum walls are very swooping and asymmetrical. Our guide explained that they represent several historic ideas. One is the parting of the Red Sea and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

Our hosts walking through the entrance to the Museum.
Through windows inscribed with Hebrew letters, you can see the Ghetto Monument.

The permanent exhibit in the museum, to open some time next year, will document 1000 years of the history of Polish Jews. I was very impressed by a video describing the planned content of this exhibit, and by our guide's description of how it would be organized, and how every effort would be made to present this history from a Jewish point of view. The emphasis is very positive, covering accomplishments, lifestyle, and the role of Jews throughout Poland, including territories that are not part of modern Poland -- as well as the destruction of the community during the war. This includes my own ancestors and their villages in present-day Belarus, which I've read quite a bit about.

An exhibit in construction: replica of an 18th century Polish synagogue.
We were unable to see the painted decorations inside this reconstruction:
colorful floral and zodiac designs that are characteristic of the famous synagogue style.
A mezuzah at the entrance is made from one of the bricks from the destroyed ghetto.
On the other side of the monument from the memorial to the fighters, is a memorial to all those who perished.
Last April when the museum opened, the New York Times published an article about it, explaining its sponsorship:
"Although it chronicles centuries of Jewish history in Poland, the museum was not an exclusively Jewish undertaking. The Polish government, Jewish groups and private donors worked together to raise roughly $100 million. The city provided the land free of charge and, along with the federal government, covered the construction costs. The Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland raised money for the permanent exhibition, which was not ready for this week’s soft opening but will be ready next year."

No comments: