Poland’s New Jewish History Museum Opens

Gallery_The Jewish Town_synagogue_FOT. M.STAROWIEYSKA_D.GOLIK_POLIN Museum of the History of Polish JewishWarsaw, Poland, Oct. 28, 2014 – Two decades in the making, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews unveiled today its eight-gallery Core Exhibition, showcasing 1,000 years of Jewish life in Poland. The museum, which stands on the historic site of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising facing the Monument of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes, both memorializes and perpetuates Jewish life in Poland. Once home to the world’s largest Jewish community from which the majority of Jews living across the Diaspora descend, Poland is today enjoying a resurgence of Jewish life.

At a total cost of $110 million, the museum boasts the distinction of being Poland’s largest public-private partnership – a collaborative initiative among the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Municipality of Warsaw and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, a nonprofit comprised of visionaries from Poland’s Jewish community who have served as caretakers of the country’s Jewish heritage for more than six decades.

The museum is also Poland’s largest fundraising success. The Polish government financed the 138,000 square-foot building at a cost of more than $60 million, and the Association, which first conceptualized the idea for a museum, was responsible for the development and production of the museum’s Core Exhibition. Thanks to the support of donors from all over the world, the Association raised $48 million for this purpose, as well as provided more than $6.5 million to support the museum’s educational and public programs.

“Seeing the museum become a reality is the fulfillment of a dream for me, a monumental global achievement, and an enduring testament to a millennium of Jewish life and culture in Poland that continues today,” said Tad Taube, a Founding Benefactor of the museum, Chairman of Taube Philanthropies and Honorary Consul for the Republic of Poland in San Francisco.

The Core Exhibition

The Core Exhibition lies at the heart of the museum and occupies one-third of the building. It presents the thousand-year history of Polish Jews, their culture and heritage, which remain a source of inspiration for Poland and the world. This millennium-long journey spans eight galleries – from the earliest period of Jewish settlement until modern times and the gradual revival of Poland’s Jewish community after the fall of communism in 1989. It is a narrative exhibition – visitors are immersed in a story told by artifacts, paintings and interactive installations, replicas and models, video projections and testimonies.

Highlights include:

  • The centerpiece of the Core Exhibition, a replica of the 17th century Gwo?dziec Synagogue, a two-year project completed by an international group of almost 400 volunteers (featuring an ornately painted ceiling and timber-framed roof; part of the Jewish Town gallery)
  • The Forest gallery, an artistic installation which opens the Core Exhibition and shares the Polin legend, where the journey through the history of Polish Jews begins
  • An interactive scale model of Krakow and nearby Kazimierz (set in 1657, the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, presenting the rich culture of the local Jewish community; part of the “Paradisus Iudaeorum,” or Jewish Paradise, gallery)
  • A throne room showcasing the partition of the commonwealth by the Prussian, Russian and Austrian-Hungarian empires (Encounters with Modernity gallery)
  • A historical street, situated at the pre-World War II location of Zamenhofa Street, a Jewish neighborhood, where visitors can discover via multimedia the interwar period’s vibrant cultural and political life
  • The Holocaust gallery that explores daily life in the ghetto from primary-source diaries and documents, and visitors traverse steps conveying the names of streets from which Jews were rounded up
  • The Post-war gallery exploring the legacy of Polish Jewish life today

Significance of the “POLIN” Legend

The word “POLIN” in the museum’s name incorporates the legend of Polin, which tells how Jews fleeing persecution in Western Europe came to Poland, where they heard birds chirping “Po-lin! Po-lin!” The Hebrew word for Poland also means “rest here,” so when the Jews heard the birds, they considered it a sign from heaven that they had reached a safe haven where they could develop their spirituality, culture and learning.