Polish Museum Set To Open Spectacular Window on Jewish Past

Meticulous Recreation of Forgotten World of Shtetl and Ghetto

Intricate Recreation: Boaz Pash, chief rabbi of Krakow, explains the symbols on the reconstructed roof of a 18th century wooden synagogue that once stood in the town of Gwozdziec. The meticulous model is a centerpiece of the new Jewish museum in Warsaw.
getty images
Intricate Recreation: Boaz Pash, chief rabbi of Krakow, explains the symbols on the reconstructed roof of a 18th century wooden synagogue that once stood in the town of Gwozdziec. The meticulous model is a centerpiece of the new Jewish museum in Warsaw.

By A.J. Goldmann

Published April 01, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It is a painfully cold day as a light snow falls on the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and on its immediate neighbor, the monument to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Inside the museum, nearly 100 workers are putting the finishing touches on the near-completed building. The undulating walls are painted a light, sandy color that gives the impression of Jerusalem Stone. The air is thick with paint and woodchips. Sparks fly from several corners.

I am being led through the dynamic structure to view the first object that has been installed in the museum: a magnificent re-creation of the timber-framed roof of the Gwozdziec Synagogue, painstakingly reconstructed using only original methods, tools and materials. Richly decorated with zodiac symbols, religious insignia and a plethora of real and mythological animals, the synagogue roof seems to augur well for the as-yet-unfinished museum, housed in the sleek edifice designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamäki and Ilmari Lahdelma.

After a gestation period of nearly two decades, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is finally set to open its doors April 19, which is the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

A scale model depicts the wood-timbered roof of 300-year-old Polish synagogue.
getty images
A scale model depicts the wood-timbered roof of 300-year-old Polish synagogue.

One of the most significant Jewish cultural projects in contemporary Europe, the museum will tell the story of the Jewish people’s 1,000-year history in Poland. According to museum officials, the core exhibition, which will be installed in the spring of 2014, will demonstrate how Jewish history and Polish history have been intertwined for the greater part of a millennium.

It is an ambitious and risky venture that has proved challenging from both a philosophical and a practical point of view. In a country where Jews were not welcome for much of the 20th century, one that many Jews associate primarily with the Nazi death camps, such a museum seems bound to challenge long-held beliefs and stereotypes.

On a more basic level, the project has often been beset by financial uncertainty and institutional setbacks, including the much publicized departure of its director, Jerzy Halbersztadt, who was basically the museum’s idea man from 1996 until his resignation in 2011.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.