Warsaw Museum Celebrates History of Polish Jews

Emily Brown

April 2013 marked a historic moment for Warsaw when the city celebrated the opening of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Based near the memorial to the city’s famous uprising, the museum functioned for its first year as a cultural and educational center. The core exhibition, dedicated to the history of Polish Jews, opened on October 28, 2014.

The museum stands in an area that was turned into the Warsaw Ghetto by the Nazis during World War II. This location holds a powerful history, and the building’s designers had to put careful thought into the structure of the museum, which has now become a symbol of the new face of Warsaw. At the opening of the core exhibition, which was built to highlight and reinforce Jewish-Polish identity, the presidents of Israel and Poland stood side by side at the entrance to the museum and showcased their unity. The presidents opened the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The aim of the exhibition is to tell the story of Polish-Jewish relations from the tenth century till the present and discuss both the good and the difficult moments in our common history – cooperation and competition, coexistence and conflict, separation and integration.

W. Kryński / POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

The museum immerses visitors in all aspects of the history of Jews in Poland, from their arrival in the country in medieval times to their experiences in the country today. The exhibition comprises eight galleries, each representing a different chapter of the story of Polish Jews, enabling visitors to have an intimate experience and a realistic insight into the lives of those who lived that story. The exhibition relied on the work of scholars from museums all over the world and was directed by Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett from New York University. International donors contributed to the creation and ongoing maintenance of the museum through the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland.

The building’s design, created by the Finnish studio, Lahdelma and Mahlamäki, was selected in an international competition. In 2008, even though the building was still under construction, it received the prestigious Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award. The structure is a symbol for how proud Poland should be that the country has, for so long, been a safe haven for Jews. Despite the history of the Holocaust in the country, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, highlighted Poland as a center of Jewish culture, identity, and tradition.

The word ‘Polin’ means ‘here you shall rest’ and highlights the acceptance of being Jewish in Poland today. The Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews reminds the nation to look to the future with the recognition that the Jewish-Polish connection did not start with the Warsaw Ghetto and end with Auschwitz. Jews have lived in Poland since the 11th century, and the museum provides an opportunity to celebrate Jewish heritage in the country.

W. Kryński / POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

The Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews is located at 6 Mordechaja Anielewicza St., 00-157, Warsaw, Poland. Opening times are Monday, Thursday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

W. Kryński / POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
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