The newly opened Historical Museum of Polish Jews leads a viewer with a story about events. It is created by writings, staging, interactive posts. Surely, it is the most modern museum in Poland.

As Marian Turski, one of its initiators emphasizes, the museum is not based on showcases. It is narrative; exhibits from the epoch are meaningful, disappear in a flood of pinboards, photographs, slides, models, touch screens, sounds and noises of particular epochs and events.

The museum acts through a word, image and sound. When we approach a cathedral – we hear the Gregorian choral singing, when to a synagogue – a voice of a cantor, a Jewish wedding is accompanied by klezmer music. A fragment of the gallery presenting the Holocaust is made from rusted steel sheet which rumbles under feet of visitors.

Young people may like it but there may be a difficulty with understanding: a lot of patience and time are needed, because there is a lot to read here. And in order to ‘read’ the whole museum, one needs a few hours. Only few people will surely spend them on visiting the exhibition.

You will rest here

The exhibition placed in a modern building is impressive. Entering the building is symbolized by parting out of waters of the Red Sea, and later there are also other interesting things. It was made easier for visitors to understand next epochs through varying the interiors, style and atmosphere.

A wall of forest full of wild animals – such a big photo welcomes guests of the museum. And this is how Poland was perceived by Jewish visitors. Ibrahim Ibn Jakub who arrived in Poland in the mid of X century, included it into the coldest countries. The arrival of Jews expelled from Western Europe is connected with a legend about the origin of the Poland name (Polin). They were wandering for a long time, looking for new places and here the Providence revealed the words to them: po lin which means in Hebrew: you will rest here.

In XVI and XVII centuries the Polish Republic of Both Nations became home for many Jews in the contemporary world. The modern times till the year 1648 – the outbreak of the Cossack uprising in Ukraine, whose victims were ten thousands of Jews – are defined by many historians as ‘the golden age’ in history of Polish Jews. When this time is shown, there is a lot of space, colours in the gallery, so that visitors could feel the spirit of the epoch.

Their fate was not easy

Disproportionately much place was devoted to the XX century – this is understandable but in this part of exhibition it was not possible to maintain the level of previous centuries and epochs. If there is a valuable, relative and very ahistorical thought that Jews in Poland never had an easy fate, it is hardly perceivable, and now it will appear in all its glory.

In a fragment concerning the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland afte r17 September 1939, there is no mentioning about erecting triumph gates by Jews for the Red Army or about collaborations of a lot of communist Jews with Soviet occupants. And it is difficult to understand, especially for guests from abroad, for example, events in Jedwabnen without it.

Moreover, there is no thread of participation of a lot of Jews in the communist apparatus of violence in the beginning of the People’s Polish Republic, which was not meaningless for the attitude of Poles towards Jews at that time. Instead, there is a note that under the soviet occupation in Poland, the civilization promotion of whole social groups became a fact.

A virtual museum

The only uprising which took place in Warsaw, which was known outside Poland, was the one which broke out in the ghetto. Now – who knows – the history of Poland can be only the history of Polish Jews – because the History Museum of Polish Jews which is to be visited by half a million of people every year, is imposing and influences imagination, and the building work of the History Museum of Poland – has not been started yet for unknown reasons.

Polish authorities prefer to spend money on other museum buildings (apart from the mentioned museum the European Centre of Solidarity was opened and the building work of the Museum of the Second World War reached another stage). There is no money – or good will for building the museum which would show our rich glorious, difficult past full of complexity in a modern way.

Although both museums – still the virtual History Museum of Poland and History Museum of Polish Jews – are in different significance categories, surely they will be comparable. The latter one has raised the difficulty level to the first one.


„Niedziela” 45/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl