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Video: Warsaw museum tells forgotten story of Polish Jews

© Adrian Grycuk, Wikimedia Commons | The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw

Video by Gulliver CRAGG , Maya SZYMANOWSKA

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-10-28

Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski and his Israeli counterpart, Reuven Rivlin, officially inaugurate the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw on Tuesday, nearly a year and a half after it first opened to the public.

Built on the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, the museum recounts the rich history of Polish Jews, a community that was all but wiped out during the Holocaust. It is named after the Hebrew word for both “Poland” and “rest here”.

Although it has attracted more than 400,000 visitors since it opened to the public in April, 2013, the museum was never formally inaugurated.

On Tuesday, Komorowski and Rivlin will at long last unveil POLIN’s core exhibition, A 1000-Year History of Polish Jews.

The exhibit was created by a team of scholars and curators under the direction of New York University Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett.

It consists of eight galleries, each examining a different period in the history of Polish Jews, from tales of Jews’ arrival in the country to today’s tentative attempts to reclaim Poland’s Jewish past.

Highlights include centuries-old manuscripts, a scale replica of a sumptuously decorated synagogue, and a vast network of multimedia installations, all housed inside a visually striking building whose serene glass façade is broken only by a large crack evoking the Biblical crossing of the Red Sea.

Centre of Jewish life

Jews first arrived in Poland during the Middle Ages. By the mid 18th-century, there were 750,000 living across Poland and Lithuania, then a part of the same kingdom, having been chased out of western Europe.

Over the years, that number steadily grew, turning the country into the global centre of Jewish culture.

By 1939 there were 3.3 million Jews in Poland, the equivalent of around 10 percent of the country’s population. Only between 200,000 to 300,000, however, would survive World War II.

Poland’s Jewish community has since dwindled, largely due to emigration. Polish Jews now number around 20,000, though it is estimated that there are tens of thousands of Poles of Jewish descent who either do not identify with the community or are unaware of their heritage.

The museum's creation has coincided with an unexpected "coming out" of a third-generation of descendants of Jews who survived the Holocaust.

For instance, a play entitled "The Hideout", which premiered in Warsaw on Saturday, tells the tale of people who spent two years hiding in closets or under floors during the Nazi occupation. Over the course of the play, it becomes clear that the trauma of the Holocaust runs so deep that survivors dare not speak of it to their children and grandchildren.

Private donors, Diaspora Jews and Poles raised 33 million euros ($42 million) to pay for the museum's core exhibition, while the city of Warsaw and Poland’s Culture Ministry funded the building to the tune of 42.5 million euros.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-10-28

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