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Museum of the History of Polish Jews


Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich
The museum building
Established 2005 (opened April 2013)
Location Warsaw, Poland
Type Historical
Collection size History of Polish Jews
Visitors expected 450,000
Director Dariusz Stola
Curator Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
Website Museum official website

The Museum of History of the Polish Jews (Polish: Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich) is a museum on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The museum is also known as Polin; a word that in Hebrew means either "Poland" and "rest here" and is related to a legend on the arrival of the first Jews in Poland.[1] The cornerstone was laid in 2007, and the museum was first opened on April 19, 2013.[2][3] The museum features a multimedia narrative exhibition about the vibrant Jewish community that flourished in Poland for a thousand years.[4] The building, a postmodern structure in glass, copper, and concrete, was designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamäki and Ilmari Lahdelma.[5]


President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, 26 June 2007

The idea for creating a major new museum in Warsaw dedicated to the history of Polish Jews was initiated in 1995 by the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland.[6] In the same year, the Warsaw City Council allocated the land for this purpose in Muranów, Warsaw’s prewar Jewish neighborhood and site of the former Warsaw Ghetto, facing the Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes. In 2005, the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland established a unique private-public partnership with the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the City of Warsaw. The Museum's first director was Jerzy Halbersztadt. In September 2006, a specially designed tent called Ohel was erected for exhibitions and events on the museum's future location.[6]

An international architectural competition was launched in 2005, supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. On June 30, 2005 the jury announced the winner; a team of two Finnish architects, Rainer Mahlamäki and Ilmari Lahdelma.[7] On June 30, 2009 construction of the building was officially inaugurated. The project was to be finished in 33 months at a cost of PLN 150 million zloty allocated by the Ministry and the City.[8]

The Museum opened the building and began its educational and cultural programs on April 19, 2013 on the 70th Anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. During the first few months that followed, more than 180,000 visitors toured the building, visited the first temporary exhibitions, and took part in cultural and educational programs. The Grand Opening, with the completed Core Exhibition, is planned for 28 October 2014.[9]

Organizational structure

Building of the Museum from Lewartowski Street
Main hall

The Core Exhibition's academic team consists of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (Program Director) of New York University, Hanna Zaremska of the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Adam Teller of Brown University, Igor Kąkolewski of the University of Warmia and Mazury, Marcin Wodziński of the University of Wrocław, Samuel Kassow of Trinity College, Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences, Helena Datner of the Jewish Historical Institute, and Stanisław Krajewski of Warsaw University. Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University is the Core Exhibition's chief historian.[10]

The North American Council of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a U.S. based non-profit organization supporting the foundation of the Museum.[11]

On June 17, 2009 the museum launched the Virtual Shtetl portal, which collects and provides access to essential information about Jewish life in Poland before and after the Holocaust in Poland. The portal now features more than 1,240 towns with maps, statistics, and image galleries based in large measure on material provided by local history enthusiasts and former residents of those places.[12]


The Museum faces the memorial commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. The winner of the architectural competition was Rainer Mahlamäki, of the architectural studio 'Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Oy in Helsinki, whose design was chosen from 100 submissions to the international architectural competition. The Polish firm Kuryłowicz & Associates was responsible for construction. The building's minimalist exterior is clad with glass fins and copper mesh. Silk screened on the glass is the word Polin, in Latin and Hebrew letters.

Museum of the History of Polish Jews - Hebrew and Latin letters of the word Polin

The central feature of the building is its cavernous entrance hall. The main hall forms a high, undulating wall. The empty space is a symbol of cracks in the history of Polish Jews. Similar in shape to gorge, which could be a reference to the crossing of the Red Sea known from the Exodus. The museum is nearly 13,000 square meters of usable space. At the lowest level, in the basement of the building will be placed a main exhibition about history of Jews from the Middle Ages to modern times. The museum building also has a multipurpose auditorium with 480 seats, temporary exhibition rooms, education center, information center, play room for children, café, shop, and in the future kosher restaurant.

Since the museum presents the whole history of Jews in Poland, not only the period under German occupation, the designer wanted to avoid similarities to existing Holocaust museums (such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the museum at Yad Vashem) which had austere concrete structures. The architects kept the museum in the colors of sand, giving it a more approachable feeling.[13]

In 2008, the design of the museum was awarded the Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award.[14] In 2014, the designer Rainer Mahlamäki was awarded the Finlandia Prize for Architecture for his design of the museum.[15]

Core Exhibition

The Core Exhibition will occupy more than 4,000 m2 of space, and will present the thousand year history of Polish Jews – once the largest Jewish community in the world.[16] History of Polish Jews will be presented in eight galleries:

  • Forest – the gallery will tell the tale of how, fleeing from persecution in Western Europe, the Jews come to the land of current Poland. A place where they arrived and were told by the voice that came from the sky – Po-lin (en. Here rested). In this way, Poland for the next 1000 years would become the largest European home for the Jewish community.
  • First Encounters (the Middle Ages) – devoted to the first Jewish settlers in Poland. Visitors will meet Ibrahim ibn Jakub, a Jewish diplomat from Cordoba, author of famous notes from a trip to Europe. One of the most interesting objects presented in the gallery will be the first sentence written in Yiddish in the Prayer Book of 1272.
  • Paradisus Iudaeorum (15th and 16th centuries) – this gallery will present how the Jewish community was organized, what role Jews played in the country’s economy. One of the most important elements in this gallery will be an interactive model of Kraków and Jewish Kazimierz, showing the rich culture of the local Jewish community. Visitors will be able to understand that religious tolerance in Poland made it a ‘Paradisus ludaeorum’ – ‘Jewish paradise’. This golden age of the Jewish community in Poland ended in pogroms that occurred during the Khmelnitsky Uprising. This event will be commemorated by a symbolic fire gall leading to the next gallery.
  • The Jewish Town (17th and 18th centuries) – this gallery presents the history of Polish Jews until the period of the partitions. It will be shown by an example of a typical borderland town where Jews constituted a significant part of the population. The most important part of this gallery is a unique reconstruction of the roof and ceiling of Gwoździec, a wooden synagogue that was located in Ukraine.
Gwoździec synagogue roof reconstruction at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw
Temporary exhibition space
  • Encounters with Modernity (19th century) – this part of the exhibition will present the time of the partitions when Jews shared the fate of Polish society divided between Austria, Prussia and Russia. The exhibition will include what role played Jewish entrepreneurs, such as Izrael Kalmanowicz Poznański, in the industrial revolution in Polish lands. This part will also tell visitors about what changes underwent in traditional Jewish rituals and other areas of life, and the emergence of new social movements, religious and political. This period is also marked by the emergence of modern anti-semitism, which Polish Jews had to face.
  • On the Jewish Street – a gallery devoted to the period of the Second Polish Republic, which is seen – despite the challenges that the young country had to face – as a second golden age in the history of Polish Jews. A graphical timeline will be presented with the most important political events of the interwar period. The exhibition will also highlight Jewish film, theater and literature.
  • Holocaust – this gallery will show the horror of the Holocaust, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 90% of the 3.3 million Polish Jews. Visitors will be shown the history of the Warsaw Ghetto, and will be introduced to Emanuel Ringelblum and Oneg Shabbat. The gallery will also present various reactions of Poles to the extermination of Jews.
  • Postwar Years – the last gallery will show the period after 1945, when most of the survivors of the Holocaust emigrated, mostly because of the post-war takeover of Poland by the Soviets and the state sponsored anti-Semitic campaign in 1968 conducted by the communist authorities. An important date is the year 1989 (marking the end of Soviet domination), followed by the revival of a small but very dynamic Jewish community in Poland.

The exhibition was developed by an international team of scholars and museum professionals from Poland, the United States and Israel as well as the Museum’s curatorial team under the direction of Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett.[17]

Museum of the History of Polish Jews mezuzah

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "A 1000-Year History of Polish Jews". Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  2. ^ "Kolejna budowa spóźniona. Czy jakaś powstanie na czas?". Gazeta Wyborcza. April 2012. 
  3. ^ "LITTLE LEFT OF WARSAW GHETTO 70 YEARS AFTER UPRISING". Yahoo!7. April 17, 2013. 
  4. ^ The Associated Press (June 24, 2007), Poland's new Jewish museum to mark community's thousand-year history.
  5. ^ Polish, Jewish leaders break ground on landmark Jewish museum The Associated Press, June 26, 2007
  6. ^ a b A.J. Goldmann, "Polish Museum Set To Open Spectacular Window on Jewish Past" The Jewish Daily Forward, April 01, 2013.
  7. ^ "Konkurs na projekt" [Contest for the design of the Museum]. Stołeczny Zarząd Rozbudowy Miasta. 
  8. ^ The Association for the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland took responsibility for creating the Core Exhibition and raising the funds for it at a cost of about PLN 120 million zloty. Rozpoczęto budowę Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich.
  9. ^ Znamy datę otwarcia wystawy Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich 22 January 2014
  10. ^ Museum of the History of Polish Jews: About the museum at
  11. ^ The North American Council of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
  12. ^ “The Virtual Shtetl”
  13. ^ Museum of the History of Polish Jews by Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Dezeen Magazine, 3 October 2013.
  14. ^ International Architecture Awards: 2008 Winners The Chicago Athenaeum.
  15. ^ "Arkkitehtuurin ensimmäinen Finlandia-palkinto: Rainer Mahlamäen puolanjuutalaisen historian museo Varsovassa". Helsingin Sanomat. 4 Nov 2014. Retrieved 5 Nov 2014. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ The Museum, Core Exhibition described (English)

External links

  • Museum official website (English)
  • Museum of the History of the Polish Jews at
  • The North American Council of the Museum at
  • Read about museum at
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