Museum to Detail the Contributions Jews Made to Polish Society

Telling a story that spans nearly 1,000 years – beginning with the birth of what became a vibrant culture but ending in one of the darkest periods of Jewish history – will not be an easy task. But an international group of historians, scholars and those who simply wish to remember have decided to take on the task in the form of a new museum, which is slated to open in 2008.

Based in Warsaw, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews plans to tell the complex story of the 3 million Jewish men, women and children who once called that country home. Its various displays will focus on Jewish social, economic, political and religious life in the Eastern European republic.

About 80 people gathered at Moore College of Art in Center City recently to hear Michael Steinlauf, an associate professor of history at Gratz College and senior consultant for the project, discuss the museum's direction and learn what each of its exhibits will entail.

"The preliminary estimates show that approximately 500,000 visitors will come to the museum each year, of which 100,000 will be Jewish," said Steinlauf at the informational event sponsored by the Holocaust Program Center of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. "Our goal is to tell one story, but it must [speak] to very different audiences."

The idea for the museum's creation originated with the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute, a Warsaw-based group responsible for funding and maintaining a Jewish archive and for artifact documentation in Poland. The institute, founded in 1951, has gradually obtained official and international recognition and support.

Funds for the building – to be designed by one of 11 internationally known architects who recently submitted plans – were committed in a trilateral agreement signed in January by the government of Poland, the municipality of Warsaw and the association.

The building is expected to cost $33 million, of which 78 percent will be contributed by the Polish government, according to Stephen Solender, chairman of the museum's North American council.

The association is expected to raise the remaining $7 million through a fundraising campaign in Western Europe and North America, drawn from both the private sector and public foundations and governments.

According to Jerzy Halbersztadt, the project's director, the Polish government and the city of Warsaw have agreed to continue funding the museum after its opening, though the association will have full control over its exhibits and content.

'They Are Not Exhibits'
Some audience members expressed concern that of all the material covered in the exhibits, only 20 percent will be dedicated to the Holocaust.

The consul general of Poland, Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska – introduced at the beginning of the evening – jumped in to say that she is continuously asked when there will be a Holocaust museum in Poland.

"There is Majdanek and Treblinka and Auschwitz and Birkenau," she replied. "They are not exhibits. They are real.

"Life is worth to be remembered also," she added.

The museum, to be built opposite the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument – which will be in full view as patrons exit the Holocaust display – will cover the wide variety of Jewish life in the area, as well as try to correct the stereotypes Americans have of Poland as a poverty-stricken and oppressed land.

"This is really focused on helping people understand how Polish-Jewish life over the last 1,000 years contributed significantly to the development of Poland, Western democracy and the State of Israel," said Solender. "Now, it will be possible for people to go to Poland and not just see how we died, but see how we lived and flourished."



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