It has been more than 10 years since its conception, but finally the long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for the Museum of Jewish History of Polish Jews has been set for June 26, 2007.
The museum will be located in the park that now stands in front of the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto in the heart of Warsaw where the heaviest fighting of the Ghetto uprising took place.
The museum, as I have reported in the past, will be a multimedia, documentary and educational center aiming to spotlight and preserve the memory of the 1,000-year- long rich culture and civilization of Jews living in Poland.
The project initiated by the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, when finished, will be unique among Jewish museums, not only in Europe but the world over. Using the latest in technological advances the museum will tell the story of the first Jews to wander into the area known as Poland through the Middle Ages, the birth of Chassidism, the Haskalah, the heady days between the World Wars, the darkness of the Shoah, the much misunderstood period of post-Holocaust Poland, and finally the rebirth of the Jewish community in present-day Poland.
Meeting of the advisory committee of Jewish historians discussing specifics of the museum exhibits.
While most Jewish Museums are visited by Jews who are already familiar with the subject, the Museum of Jewish History of Polish Jews will have a strong emphasis of educating non-Jews. Poles will have a chance to discover the truth about the Jewish nation, whom they mostly know as a people that once lived among them.
They will learn about the Jewish way of life and what it meant to be a Jew in Poland. They will discover the vast contributions of the Jewish people to Polish culture.
For the Jewish visitor, they will see how life in Poland existed for 1,000 years. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but that Poland was the place Judaism was able to develop as nowhere else.
The great rabbis of old lived in Krakow, i.e., the Rema who codified religious law for the Ashkenazic Jews, whose teachings we still learn and follow today. The Chassidic movement started by Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov and continued by his disciples throughout Poland, including the dynasties of Gur, Bobov, Alexander, Sanz and hundreds of others that now exist in the U.S. and Israel. All had their roots in Polish soil.
Visitors to the museum will encounter displays designed to engage them emotionally as well as intellectually, give them a sense of actually “being there” in the cities, towns and villages of the culturally diverse Polish Republic. The exhibit will demonstrably disprove the notion that the history of the Jews in Poland is a closed book.
The very structure of the museum is designed to welcome the visitor, relieving the anxiety that many have when approaching the subject of Jewish heritage in Poland.
Alongside the permanent exhibition hall the museum will also consist of a temporary area, for exhibits of a timely nature, a library, and education center with a computer bank, auditorium, bookshop and restaurant.
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Last week there was a letter to the editor regarding this column from a Mr. George Kruszewski. In his letter from Adelaide, Australia, he notes that Po-lin means refuge. He is referring to the legend that when the Jews were wandering through Europe they came to an area and heard a voice from heaven saying “Po Lin,” Hebrew for, “Here you should rest,” and they lived there for a thousand years.
Mr. Kruszewski asks that people remember the complete 1,000-year history of the Jews in Poland and not Just the Holocaust.
Regular readers of my column know that I try to emphasis that long relationship of the Jews and Poland. I try to bring out the great-unknown stories of Jewish Polish relationships such as the Jewish King of Poland Saul Wahl.
Poles who have been recognized by Yad Vashem in Israel as being Righteous Among The Nations for having saved Jews during the war are especially close to my heart. I have interviewed and written about Jan Karski, z”l, Wladyslaw Bartoszeski and Irena Sendler as well as others in the past. I welcome hearing about Mr. Kruszewski’s father whom he said has rescued numerous Jews by helping them across the border. I will do some research on him and dedicate a column to him in the near future. More than 100 of my columns can be found on the Internet on the Jewish Press web site: jewishpress.com under Columns/Polin.