News / Europe

Jewish Life, not Death, Focus of Poland Museum

FILE - Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, April 8, 2013.
FILE - Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, April 8, 2013.
Reuters
A new museum of Jewish history opens in Poland this week to refocus attention on a vibrant community that has lived in the country for centuries but whose history, for many, has been eclipsed by the Nazi death camps that nearly wiped them out.

Every year some 1.5 million people visit Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in southern Poland which has become a grisly emblem of the Holocaust.

Yet in the Polish capital there is little evidence of what was for generations one of Europe's biggest Jewish communities - just a couple of memorials down quiet streets, and a synagogue tucked away in a courtyard behind Communist-built high-rise apartment blocks.

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw will try to educate people about the community's rich past, and, say its curators, might also help dispel some of the suspicion towards Jews that still now - seven decades after the Holocaust - lingers in parts of Polish society.

"I want this museum to be a museum of life, not a museum of death," said Andrzej Cudak, acting head of the museum.

A replica of the roof of the synagogue in Gwozdzca, which is going to be a part of an exhibition in the newly constructed building of the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews located in the former Warsaw Ghetto, April 16, 2013.A replica of the roof of the synagogue in Gwozdzca, which is going to be a part of an exhibition in the newly constructed building of the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews located in the former Warsaw Ghetto, April 16, 2013.
x
A replica of the roof of the synagogue in Gwozdzca, which is going to be a part of an exhibition in the newly constructed building of the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews located in the former Warsaw Ghetto, April 16, 2013.
A replica of the roof of the synagogue in Gwozdzca, which is going to be a part of an exhibition in the newly constructed building of the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews located in the former Warsaw Ghetto, April 16, 2013.
The museum, the first of its kind in Poland, is on a street that used to be part of the Warsaw ghetto. At the front, the building's undulating walls split apart, to symbolize the rupture of the holocaust.

It opens its doors on Friday, 70 years to the day since groups of young Jews in the ghetto, with scavenged or improvised weapons, launched an uprising against German troops. It was crushed about a month later.

For now the museum will have only temporary exhibits, but once it is fully up and running next year, it will house artifacts chronicling the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland.

"This is not going to be another Holocaust-type museum," said Robert Supel, a project director at the museum.

One of the eight galleries will be devoted to the Holocaust, he said, "but primarily we are talking about life, we are talking about culture, we are talking about the exchange of influence of nations, we are talking about all aspects of Jewish life in Poland since the early medieval period."

Low-Key Community

Before World War II, more than three million Jews lived in Poland. By the end of it, 90 percent of them were dead.

The museum will become the most visible symbol in Warsaw of a Jewish presence which is strikingly low-key.

Other eastern European capitals where Jews were exterminated have seen a limited revival of their Jewish communities since the end of Communist rule two decades ago.

But only 7,500 Jews live in Poland, according to a census conducted in 2011, though the real figure is probably higher. In the capital, there are few synagogues left. It is rare to see anyone in the street wearing a yarmulke or the fedora of an orthodox Jew.

Anti-Semitic attitudes could be part of the reason for this low profile. There is no anti-Semitism in public life in Poland, unlike nearby Hungary where one far-right member of parliament last year called for lists of Jews to be compiled. The Polish government helped pay for the museum.

Nevertheless, low-level anti-Semitism is present, from soccer chants where fans use the term "Jew" as an insult hurled at rival supporters, to the graffiti on suburban walls.

A poll conducted last month by the Homo Homini public opinion institute found that half of Warsaw high-school students would be unhappy if they discovered someone in their family had Jewish origins. Sixty percent of young people would be displeased if their boyfriend or girlfriend turned out to be Jewish, according to the survey.

The poll was commissioned by the Jewish Community of Warsaw, one of the country's biggest Jewish groups. Its head, Piotr Kadlcik, said he hoped the new museum would shine an objective light on how Poles and Jews have co-existed through history.

"Let's not think that the museum will be a panacea for all the problems we have with Polish-Jewish relations," Kadlcik said. "But if it helps just in part, that will be a success."

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid