Dariusz Stola, the newly appointed director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, never seems to tire of discussing the groundbreaking institution’s most important mission.
The bespectacled history professor, who is not Jewish, says the museum aims to show off the richness of Polish Jewry’s 1,000-year history, not its devastation in the Holocaust.
“If you, God forbid, were killed in an accident tomorrow,” said Stola as he leaned forward and knocked slightly against the underside of a filigreed wooden coffee table. “would you want people to remember the day of your death, or your life?”
Stola, 50, in a grey jacket, with short, fair hair and rimless glasses, was visiting to introduce himself to American stakeholders. Since its “soft” opening last April, the museum has shown temporary exhibitions; its core exhibition is slated to open on October 28. Stola repeatedly emphasized the mantra: It’s a museum of life. That’s why only one out of eight galleries will be dedicated to the Holocaust, which eradicated 90% of the Polish Jewry.
Stola stuck closely to talking points during an interview with the Forward at the Polish Consulate General in New York, a lavish, century-old building near Grand Central Station, complete with gold stucco, ceiling frescos and original Tiffany windows. But Stola brimmed with gregarious charm later in the evening, at an event at the consulate for around 200 invited guests.
Equipped with a slideshow, he presented snippets of the core exhibition, such as the reconstruction of the wooden synagogue of Gwozdziec, in what is now Ukraine. The shul’s meticulously decorated, colorful ceiling, and numerous multimedia installations will render the museum the most technologically advanced in Eastern Europe, according to Stola.