Polish Museum Eyes Life Not Death of Centuries-Old Jewish Community

Vivid Presence Returns to Warsaw After Decades

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By Reuters

Published April 18, 2013.
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A new museum of Jewish history opens in Poland this week to refocus attention on a vibrant community that has lived in the country for centuries but whose history, for many, has been eclipsed by the Nazi death camps that nearly wiped them out.

Every year some 1.5 million people visit Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in southern Poland which has become a grisly emblem of the holocaust.

Yet in the Polish capital there is little evidence of what was for generations one of Europe’s biggest Jewish communities - just a couple of memorials down quiet streets, and a synagogue tucked away in a court-yard behind Communist-built high-rise apartment blocks.

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw will try to educate people about the community’s rich past, and, say its curators, might also help dispel some of the suspicion towards Jews that still now - seven decades after the Holocaust - lingers in parts of Polish society.

“I want this museum to be a museum of life, not a museum of death,” said Andrzej Cudak, acting head of the museum.

The museum, the first of its kind in Poland, is on a street that used to be part of the Warsaw ghetto. At the front, the building’s undulating walls split apart, to symbolise the rupture of the holocaust.

It opens its doors on Friday, 70 years to the day since groups of young Jews in the ghetto, with scavenged or improvised weapons, launched an uprising against German troops. It was crushed about a month later.

For now the museum will have only temporary exhibits, but once it is fully up and running next year, it will house artefacts chronicling the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland.

“This is not going to be another holocaust-type museum,” said Robert Supel, a project director at the museum.

One of the eight galleries will be devoted to the holocaust, he said, “but primarily we are talking about life, we are talking about culture, we are talking about the exchange of influence of nations, we are talking about all aspects of Jewish life in Poland since the early medieval period.”


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