Warsaw museum looks back at 1,000 years of Polish Jewish history

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Warsaw museum looks back at 1,000 years of Polish Jewish history

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A new museum devoted to the history of Polish Jews has opened in the capital Warsaw.

The Core Exhibition goes back to the Jewish people’s arrival in Poland in the Middle Ages, and the flourishing Yiddish-speaking civilisation that contributed to Polish and world culture, before being nearly wiped out by Nazi Germany.

Poland’s pre-war population of 3.3 million Jews was reduced to 300,000 by Adolf Hitler’s genocide, and persecution under the communist regime drove most of the survivors away.

While some Poles collaborated with the Nazis, others risked their lives helping the Jews. The museum carries all of these stories, as well as pre-Holocaust history.

“The exhibition presents the great richness of Jewish life and culture in Poland. It shows the wealth of Jewish culture back to the relatively safe era when they lived a prosperous life, and up to the tragic and dramatic events of the Holocaust. In my opinion, this is what the museum is about,” explained Dariusz Stola, director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Under Poland’s communist regime, Jews virtually disappeared from the public sphere – to this day, many people in Poland know little about the rich past of the Polish Jews.

“The main exhibition of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is important for the common history of both people. In a way, this is a photograph of times when photography didn’t exist; of the arrival of Jews to Poland, their settlement and their life alongside the Polish population, which was difficult at times. The 1,000-year history of Polish Jews has been restored by this exhibition,” said Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, mayor of Warsaw.

The museum has been built at the heart of the war-time Warsaw Ghetto. Its exterior is meant to resemble a wave, with reference to the biblical Crossing of the Red Sea by the Jews. Finnish architect, Rainer Mahlamäki, designed the building.

“The idea was to provide a wide area for the exhibits and designers, so that they have free hands to make and to use modern technology and to create this exhibition,” Mahlamäki said.

‘A Thousand Years of the History of Polish Jews’ is open now at Warsaw’s new Polin Museum.

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