The Museum Of The History Of Polish Jews, based in Warsaw, for a long time has had an office in New York City. With limited staff and resources, the chairman of the North American Council of the museum, Mr. Sigmund Rolat, has worked tirelessly to promote the museum through arranging events. Recently with the growth of activities both in Poland and in the U.S. it was decided to enlarge the North American Council staff. To that goal Robert Socolof has been appointed executive director of North American Council for the Museum Of The History Of Polish Jews.
Mr. Socolof brings with him many years of experience in the field of Jewish institutional work. He has worked for The Jewish Agency as community relations director and for the Israeli Consulate where he developed ahasbarah website, to counter negative press about Israel and Zionism.
During a trip to Poland he had realized how little he and most other people knew about the long history of Jews in Poland. He was intrigued when he first heard about the museum and jumped at the opportunity to work for it. The aim of the council is to raise awareness of the museum as well as to help fund it. “Many people have a misconception as to the workings of the museum,” Mr. Socolof said in a recent interview. They think that being in Poland and largely funded by the government there will be very little Jewish input in the museum board and content.
“There are 15 seats on the museum governing council,” Mr. Socolof explained. Three are for the Polish national government, three seats are for the City of Warsaw and six members come from the Jewish Historical Society in Warsaw. “This will guarantee that the content of the museum will be Jewish oriented and not apologist as many fear.”
(L-R): Mr. Robert Socolof, executive director of the North American Council of the Museum Of The History Of Polish Jews; Mr. Sigmund Rolat, chairman of the NACMHPJ; Lydia Sarfati of the Shalom Foundation in Warsaw; and Mr. Michael Berkowitz, treasurer of the NACMHPJ.
On a recent trip to Poland Mr. Socolof met with the museum directors and staff and was impressed with what he saw as a dynamic and qualified staff that is working hard to build a museum, unique to the Jewish people.
Socolof commented, “Mr. Marion Turski, chairman of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and one of the prime movers of the Museum project is a storehouse of Jewish historic knowledge.”
The whole museum staff is very dedicated to bringing the complete story of nearly 1,000 years of Polish-Jewish relations to the public eye. The museum expects about 500,000 visitors annually, once it is completed in 2012. The museum’s target audience is not just American Jewish tourists but also a major learning vehicle for Polish and other European students.
According to Socolof, “Often what tourists see about Jewish history in Poland is the Holocaust, and they never get to hear about the great Jewish communities that flourished for hundreds of years. The job of the Museum is to change that.
“In the U.S. we will be working towards that goal as well as raising awareness of the Museum and raising money for the museum. One of the things that I have been asked to do is to gather material for the museum.
“The museum will be unique in that it will not only have physical displays of items of Jewish interest but it will be, for the most part, a digital museum. The museum is creating a huge data base that guests will be able to explore. There is much material still to be discovered around the world especially in the U.S.”
In the short time that Mr. Socolof has taken over the reins of the North American Council he has been very active and is looking forward to see the success of his labors, the opening of the Museum in 2012.
To contact the North American Council of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, http://mhpjnac.org.Shmuel Ben Eliezer