Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jewish Life in Poland Before the Nazis

Finally! It's about time someone decided to honor the memory of the Jews living in Poland before the invasion of the Nazis. It seems like all we ever hear about the Jews in Poland is the Holocaust story. And the truth is that prior to the Nazi invastion of Poland, the Jews made up about 10% of Poland's population and played a vital roll in Polish society. Now there will be a museum in Warsaw to reflect on Jewish life in Poland before WWII. Here's a news story I came across in the Polish American Forum.

Museum in Poland to honor Jewish life
Groundbreaking set for tomorrow
Vanessa Gera
Associated Press
June 25, 2007

WARSAW -- An empty
lawn in the heart of what was once the Warsaw
Ghetto will soon become a
place not only of mourning, but of
celebrating the Jewish life that
flourished in Poland before it was
destroyed in the Holocaust.

Jewish leaders and President Lech Kaczynski will break ground
tomorrow for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. It sits on a
highly charged site -- next to the city's monument to the Jews who
resisted the Nazis during the 1943 ghetto uprising, and just down
street from the rail siding where many were deported to their

The multimedia museum will have exhibits on the Holocaust, but
organizers say its primary purpose is to remember the vibrant Jewish
community that flourished in Poland for a thousand years despite
degrees of anti-Semitism and discrimination.

"This will not be another
Holocaust museum," said Marian Turski, one
of the originators of the idea
for the museum, and president of the
Association of the Jewish Historical
Institute in Poland. "It will
be a museum of life."

The building, an
austere glass and limestone structure designed by
Finnish architects Rainer
Mahlamaki and Ilmari Lahdelma, will
feature a jagged chasm that cuts through
the entire museum, and an
interior of undulating forms that alludes to
Moses's parting of the
Red Sea while fleeing slavery in Egypt -- symbolic of
survival in the face of catastrophe.

When it opens in two
years, Polish and Jewish leaders hope it will
become a cultural landmark in
a league with Jerusalem's Yad Vashem,
the United States' Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington and
Berlin's Jewish Museum and Holocaust Memorial.

To many, such a center is long overdue in a country that had
Europe's largest Jewish community until World War II, numbering
3.3 million, or 10 percent of the total population. The
society produced a
vibrant Yiddish-speaking culture and a string of
great scientists, writers,
and thinkers.

Poland is also where Nazi Germany built Auschwitz,
Treblinka, and
the other extermination camps where 6 million Jews -- half of
Polish -- were killed.

Yet Jewish history and suffering were
taboo themes for decades under
communist rule, which collapsed in 1989. Only
about 30,000 Jews live
in Poland today.

Museum creators say the $65
million-project will chronicle the fate
of Jews in their Eastern European
homeland with interactive and
multimedia displays and video -- not just
traditional artifacts and
exhibits -- in order to give visitors a deeper
sense of what was

In one room, a typical bustling Jewish
street of the 1920s will be
conjured with images projected onto white
building facades typical
of the era.

"It's closer in many ways to
theater than it is to a didactic
display based on a collection," said
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett,
an American specialist in East European
Jewish culture and museum
development with New York University and leader of
the team
developing the exhibition.

The specialists working on the
displays say they are struggling with
the sensitive question of how to
depict Polish-Jewish relations in a
land that was at different times a place
of tolerance for Jews, and
of painful anti-Semitism, discrimination, and

It's about time this museum is built isn't it?