Jewish history museum opens in Warsaw on anniversary of ghetto uprising
Eight galleries, including the reconstructed roof of a 17th-century wooden synagogue, will tell the story of 1,000 years of Jewish presence in Poland
By Julia Michalska. Web only
Published online: 19 April 2013
A Jewish heaven—Paradisus Iudaeorum—is how a 17th-century Vatican diplomat once described Poland. During the Holocaust, it became hell on earth. Now, the country’s fraught relationship with Jewish culture will be explored by Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is due to hold a preview opening on 19 April, the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The official opening of the museum is expected in 2014.
A team of around 120 scholars, led by New York University’s Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, developed the museum’s core exhibition programme. Eight galleries, including the reconstructed roof of a 17th-century wooden synagogue, will tell the story of 1,000 years of Jewish presence in Poland.
This month, the museum launches its cultural and educational activities in a building designed by Rainer Mahlamäki and Ilmari Lahdelma. Beating architects such as Daniel Libeskind and Peter Eisenman for the design of the museum, the Finnish architects developed a highly symbolic glass structure on the former site of the Warsaw ghetto. The facade of the Z191m ($60m) building spells the word Polin (Polish woman/girl) in Hebrew and Latin letters, while the undulating walls of the interior point to the fractured history of Jews in Poland.
Funded by the Ministry of Culture, the city of Warsaw and the non-profit Association of the Jewish Historical Institute, the museum was first conceived in the 1990s and the first stone was laid in 2009.
Religious tolerance in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth meant that Jews found shelter there from persecution in other European countries. Though Russia, Prussia and Austria put an end to the country’s sovereignty in the 18th century until 1918, an estimated 3 million Jews lived in Poland. Around 90% of the Polish Jews community were murdered during the Holocaust. Today, there are only an estimated 20,000 Jews in Poland. Israel’s president Shimon Peres and Poland’s president Bronislaw Komorowski are expected to attend the event.
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