MUSEUM OF THE NATIONAL PRIDE
The contemporary museum is not only an exhibition space but also a place to pursue historic policy – it is difficult not to agree with it. This is a problem which we are facing up in Poland today. If a country exists in real, not only theoretically, it is just pursuing historic policy. No local governments or non-governmental organizations have something to say here. Although the Warsaw Uprising Museum belongs to the authorities of Warsaw, which have been in a strong opposition towards the state authorities for four years, but it has not been possible to avoid a conflict related to the functioning of the institution so far. This is an unquestionable success of my interlocutor, a director Jan Ołdakowski, whose achievement includes his experience as an MP in two cadencies and which was surely very helpful. In 2004 he had a function as a director of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, but a year earlier he was a proxy of Lech Kaczyński, the president of Warsaw at that time, for issues of concepts and a program of the activity of the established institution.
1 August is a day on which we do not only reminisce the heroism of soldiers of the Warsaw Uprising and cry on the fate of the victims but we also celebrate their late victory in the form of free Poland of our days. Wojciech Bobrowski talks with a director of the Warsaw Uprising Museum Jan Ołdakowski about celebrating the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising and the history, activity and plans of the museum
WOJCIECH BOBROWSKI: - An occasion for our talk is the exceptional anniversary – this year it has been the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising Museum is celebrating its 15 years of existence. What was the most difficult moment during those 15 years?
JAN OŁDAKOWSKI: What was the most difficult was opening up the museum which was to be established on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. The opening ceremony had to be on 1 August 2004 – the date of finishing works did not undergo any negotiations. We had only 13 months for it. Thanks to the contribution and engagement of many people everything was done on time.
– Will this year’s anniversary have a special setting?
– We expect a much higher number of guests, particularly from abroad. These are often the descendants of insurgents and soldiers who fought during the Second World War. Moreover scouts from all over Poland will come to us – there are going to be 8 scouting organizations, more than in the previous years.
As every year on the occasion of the anniversary of the Uprising there is going to be the Holy Mass with the participation of insurgents, scouts and Warsaw inhabitants, Warsaw insurgents will meet with the President of the Republic of Poland and the President of the capital city Warsaw, and there is also going to be a scouts’ meeting. The Information Centre of the Ceremonies will renew its activity and will be responsible for hosting insurgents from all over the world.
In Berlin we are going to open an exhibition ‘Warsaw Uprising 1944’ prepared by the museum with cooperation with the Foundation Topography of Terror and in our headquarter at Grzybowska street we are going to inaugurate a project ‘Reflection. I am like you, surely’ – an unusual multimedia installation which will allow everybody to understand how much we are similar to those who were fighting for the free capital city of Poland in August and September 1944. In the park of the Warsaw Insurgents one can see another outside exhibition ‘Let’s keep them in memory’, devoted to Warsaw inhabitants who were killed during the Uprising.
Moreover, we are going to invite everyone to a concert, a theatre spectacle, singing songs about the uprising together on Piłsudski Square, a bike trip along the streets of Warsaw on the route of the battalion ‘Umbrella’, a Reminiscence March commemorating the civil victims of the Uprising on the area of the whole city. Children will be able to take part in a special educational meeting, and fans of history and photography in a photographic urban game ‘Your film of the Uprising’. Briefly speaking – everyone will find something for themselves.
– Could you tell us a few words about the planned building development of the museum…
– Our museum was established in a completely different urban landscape. In the 20th century this part of Wola was an industrial district which fell into ruin very quickly. During the last 10 years everything changed – skyscrapers and glassed office buildings were built. One can say that every area suitable for construction work was used. Tens of coaches by which our guests visit the museum every day, do not have a chance for a longer stop than the time necessary to leave the coach. The problem is also that tourists must wait outside to enter the museum. All this caused a decision of building development and modernization of our headquarter. We are planning to make an access and entrance to the buildings from the side of Towarowa street. There will also be cloakrooms and social facilities for visitors there. Moreover, the direction of inner routes is also going to be changed. When we were designing the museum, even in our dreams we had not expected that it would be visited by 700 thousand people a year.
– In Warsaw, at present, two big historic museums are being established: museums of Indomitable Soldiers and political prisoners at Rakowiecka street and the history of Poland in Citadel, and recently a museum devoted to the victims of Katyń has been opened. Don’t you think that it is a kind of excess?
– I do not think there would be too many museums in Warsaw, devoted to the history of Poland. For the first decade after the transformation even no single museum was established. Now we are making it up. We have a very interesting history, so no wonder that there is a demand on institutions dealing with our history.
– Will it be a competition for the museum whose director you are or rather partnership for cooperation?
– These museums often present the life of the same people, but in different moments of their lives. So, cooperation is not only possible but even necessary, particularly in the area sphere of scientific studies, archive researches. After all, there are still appearing new discoveries, we are reaching unknown documents. Something similar happened also in my family. My grandma who took part in the Warsaw Uprising, was in a captivity camp after its capitulation. She wrote a letter to her friend there in which she informed her about her plans of emigrating to the Republic of Southern Africa. This letter has recently been sent to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. So far I and my relatives have not known that our fates could be completely different.
If we are talking about cooperation we should not forget about foreign projects. It is worth mentioning the exhibition in Germany again, which we are going to open on the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Uprising- the exposition is another revelation of the exhibition which we presented in Berlin in 2014; at that time it raised a lot of controversies, particularly around the person of Heinz Reinefarth. His family was trying to fight for the good name of that man. These exhibitions are very important as in German schools the Warsaw Uprising is not mentioned at all. This year in Tbilisia we also opened up an exhibition ‘Fight for freedom. The Warsaw Uprising 1944’. Let’s remind that in the capital of Georgia the reminiscence of Lech Kaczyński is still lively.
– Finally, I would like to ask you about the social perception of the museum and the universality of acceptance: how did it happen that the museum, which was established with so much difficulty, is admired by everybody today?
– The Warsaw Uprising Museum contributed to popularizing the date of 1 August for 15 years of its existence, when not only is the aforementioned heroism of the Uprising soldiers reminisced or do we cry on the fate of the victims, but we also celebrate their late victory in the form of free Poland of our days. The Uprising had been reminisced before the museum was established, but it was limited to some inhabitants of Warsaw who gathered on the Powązki Cemetery; at present the action comprised whole Poland. The culmination is the W hour when at 5 p.m. street traffic is stopped in all Polish cities. Warsaw still has its own celebrations – singing insurgents’ songs on the square of Piłsudski on which more and more Poles take part in the concerts every year, regardless of various opinions on many issues. The National Television broadcasts this event in the nationwide TV programme. Memory about the Warsaw Uprising unites all Poles. However, what is the most important is the integration of generations. I often was a witness of meetings of scouts and our young volunteers with insurgents. What is the most moving is that those elderly people recognize themselves in the youth from years ago – they see themselves in their joy of life, optimism and love to homeland and another man.