Unlike many other Jewish museums that focus on numerous tragedies of Jewish history, the new museum will celebrate the nearly 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland.
“It is a museum of life,” said Sigmund Rolat, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor and American benefactor who has helped bring the museum to life. “We are showing 1,000 years of a magnificent history.”
The museum is being constructed in Warsaw on the site of the infamous Jewish Ghetto, which became a symbol of Jewish courage and resistance during WWII. It is being funded through a partnership between the Polish government and American-Jewish benefactors.
The museum will highlight the significant achievements in culture, science and the arts that Polish Jews made over the centuries. In addition, the museum will also celebrate the contributions Polish Jews made around the world, including Polish-born Jews like David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, and Albert Sabin, who developed the polio vaccine.
Beyond the discussion of Polish Jewish history, the museum will also address complex relationship between Polish Christians and Jews over the centuries, a topic that has been taboo until recently. It hopes to challenge the stereotypes on both sides that Poland historically was always a hostile place to Jews by showing long periods where Jews were welcomed and thrived. But it will not ignore the ugliest episodes of anti-Semitism during the 19th and 20th centuries.
“You don’t live in a place for a thousand years and create a great civilization if it’s one unmitigated disaster, which of course is one of the perceptions of the history of Polish Jews,” said Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the program director of the core exhibition.
“It’s a perception that was largely created by the cataclysmic events of the Holocaust. But we don’t start with the Holocaust, and we don’t end with the Holocaust.”