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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs