The Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a new museum dedicated to the history of Jews in Poland, was once Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto has opened this week. The institution examines the history of Jewish culture that thrived in Poland for a millennia until Nazi occupation. The museum’s name is taken from the Hebrew word for Poland, Polin, which means “rest here.”
“When you are a Jew, even if you were not born in Poland, the very name ‘Poland’ stirs up trembling and longing in your heart,” noted Israeli president Reuven Rivlin during the opening ceremony of the museum.
Many Polish Holocaust survivors were in attendance on Tuesday as the museum unveiled its central exhibition, “A Thousand-Year History of Polish Jews.” Jews began settling in Poland in the Middle Ages, and found a tolerant government allowing Jewish political autonomy, with this the Jewish population thrived for many centuries.
“Polish history didn’t speak of Jews. It spoke of cemeteries, of the Holocaust, of the ghettos,” Piotr Wislicki, the head of a Jewish historical society, told the AP. “It spoke exclusively of death.”
Of the 3.3 million Jews in the country before the war, only 300,000 survived, and then went on to face severe persecution under communist rule. In the years that followed, the country’s once vibrant Jewish culture faded, and was largely forgotten. Yet today, Poland is home to only 30,000 Jews.
The museum director Dariusz Stola told the Associated Press.“The Holocaust has cast a shadow onto this great civilisation and the generations of Jews who lived in Eastern Europe before the Second World War, as if those centuries of life were little more than a preface to the Holocaust, but that is absurd. This museum stresses that 1,000 years of Jewish life are not less worthy of remembrance than the six years of the Holocaust.”
The museum cost £62 million in construction costs and was nearly two decades in the planning; And is an ever present reminder of Polish Jewish history, both vibrant and tragic.
“Anyone who doesn’t have Jewish roots will come away with a better understanding of Jewish life, and every Jew who visits the museum will leave with a greater understanding of the history and culture of Poland,” Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich told The New PL. “I am proud that the exhibition has been constructed in such a wise, sensible way, which tries to show all aspects of Jewish history in Poland,” he added.