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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Before World War Two, more than three million Jews lived in Poland. By the end of it, 90 percent of them were dead.

The museum will become the most visible symbol in Warsaw of a Jewish presence which is strikingly low-key.

Other eastern European capitals where Jews were exterminated have seen a limited revival of their Jewish communities since the end of Communist rule two decades ago.

But only 7,500 Jews live in Poland, according to a census conducted in 2011, though the real figure is probably higher. In the capital, there are few synagogues left. It is rare to see anyone in the street wearing a yarmulke or the fedora of an orthodox Jew.

Anti-Semitic attitudes could be part of the reason for this low profile. There is no anti-Semitism in public life in Poland, unlike nearby Hungary where one far-right member of parliament last year called for lists of Jews to be compiled. The Polish government helped pay for the museum.

Nevertheless, low-level anti-Semitism is present, from soccer chants where fans use the term “Jew” as an insult hurled at rival supporters, to the graffiti on suburban walls.

A poll conducted last month by the Homo Homini public opinion institute found that half of Warsaw high-school students would be unhappy if they discovered someone in their family had Jewish origins. Sixty percent of young people would be displeased if their boyfriend or girlfriend turned out to be Jewish, according to the survey.

The poll was commissioned by the Jewish Community of Warsaw, one of the country’s biggest Jewish groups. Its head, Piotr Kadlcik, said he hoped the new museum would shine an objective light on how Poles and Jews have co-existed through history.

“Let’s not think that the museum will be a panacea for all the problems we have with Polish-Jewish relations,” Kadlcik said. “But if it helps just in part, that will be a success.”


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