The construction and installation of the main exhibition of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is soon to be finished. How to present the 1000 year-long history of the Polish Jews? The first sections of the permanent exhibition are currently on display at the museum's headquarters.
For the first time, sections of the exhibition were presented in the museum’s headquarters, located in Muranów, Warsaw. (Read more about the Museum building...). The installation of all eight galleries that make up the exhibition is set to end in June, and its official opening is scheduled for October 28th, 2014.
Museum: bones, tendons, flesh ...
For now, journalists that have visited the Museum have had a chance to see three galleries: First Encounters (Pierwsze spotkania), Paradisus Iudaeorum and The Country Town (Miasteczko) - which are chronologically ordered as the first part of the display. At the moment, there are no actual pieces in the galleries, but there are what program director Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett called the "bones and sinews" of the exhibition. Soon the flesh and skin of the exhibition will be added - the artefacts, specially-designed furniture, multimedia presentations and graphics that will constitute the narrative of the new museum.
Listen to prof. Kirschenblatt-Gimblett talk about the plans for the Mueum...
The core exhibition, which will take up 4200m2, had previously only been shown as plans and in visualisations as individual components. On Wednesday 5th February, 2014, three galleries were shown for the first time.
To present 1000 years…
The museum will emphasize the enormous value of the 1000 years of history of Polish Jews and the whole Jewish nation. The main exhibition will show the phenomena which transformed Jewish life on the Polish lands. This was the residence of polonized Jews who have made a significant contribution to the Polish and international culture. The history of Jews in Poland can not be described without awareness of the devastating impact of nationalism and communism on their lives in the 20th century. There were some negative attitudes like chauvinism that came from outside Poland as a result of the German and Soviet occupation. This wasn’t a natural part of the Polish - Jewish relationship. - said prof. Antony Polonsky, the main historian of the exhibition and well known researcher of Polish-Jewish relations
Watch the visualization of the planned core exhibition at the Museum:
This story should be better known and understood in Poland, Israel, in the Jewish Diaspora and in the world. We study history not in order to know how to behave or how to succeed, but to find out who we are. This is the essential purpose of the main exhibition - said Polonsky
Jewish Middle Ages
The creator of the main exhibition , Barbara Kirshenblatt–Gimblet asserts that there are almost no artefacts from the earliest period of Polish–Jewish history,. That was one of the challenges that needed to be faced.
The museum formed a collection specifically for the exhibition. The only artefact made in Poland by a Jew that the Museum possesses is a bracteate – one-sided coin – with a Hebrew inscription. It is the size of a 1 grosz coin (a Polish coin with the lowest nominal value).
The researcher thinks that in this case, necessity is the mother of invention. Due to the absence of original testimonies, the creators of the medieval gallery had to to create their own illustrations which shall function like illuminations in the Medieval manuscripts. The director of the main exhibition has revealed that responsibility for the illustrations will be taken by Tomasz Leśniak (a well-known Polish comic book author).
Kirshenblat also pointed out that the exhibition will be extremely multilingual with the use of Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, Polish, Yiddish, and French.
First Encounters – how Jews found themselves in Poland
The First Encounters gallery - the first gallery of the core exhibition at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, photo: MHPJ
The gallery First Encounters, presented by its author - prof. Hanna Zaremska, embraces the time from the 10th to the 15th century, which is the earliest period of the history of Jews on Polish lands. It consists of the three parts: market, castle and city. Each of them is dedicated to a separate aspect of history; market - the time of the Jewish arrival to Polish lands and their first settlement; the town - the relationship between the Jewish community and Polish rulers; and the city - the life of the entire Jewish Diaspora.
The first thing that mattered was trade, later on the whole settlement would appear. But the Jewish nation can be described as a nomadic one. We need to be aware that every single Jew that emigrates wants to reach a place where he could still be a Jew. Such a place was found on Polish lands. - said Prof. Zaremska
Apart from the coins, the Museum is in possession of written testimonies such as municipal books, letters, travel descriptions and other documents in Hebrew.
The Country Town, or Shtetl
The authors of the Country town gallery want to tell a story about the life of Polish Jews at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries in the Borderlands (a former territory of the eastern provinces of Poland that is today part of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania). The central part presents a market, a Jewish home, an inn and a synagogue – the most impressive and the most beautiful element of the display. It is both a literal and symbolic presentation of the city centre.
Paradisus Judaeorum – a gallery with a question mark
Fragment of the Paradisus Judaeorum gallery - part of the core exhibition; photo: MHPJ
The gallery Paradisus Iudaeorum covers the period from 1506 to 1648. This was the golden era in the general history of Poland and this gallery tries to answer the question as to whether this was also the golden age for the country's Jews. The answer is presented by showing the diverse aspects of social, cultural, intellectual and economic life of which Jew were part.
Visitors will be able to see interactive models of Krakow and Jewish Kazimierz (a part of Krakow) with its rich culture of the Jewish community, the masterpieces of literature in Hebrew and Yiddish such as Talmut and the religious, philosophical and moral masterpieces.
During that time, Poland was called the Paradisus Iudaeorum - the Jewish paradise.
A brief story of the Museum…
The museum will be the first Polish institution to be founded collaboratively by public and private bodies. Its formation is due to the mutual efforts of the Polish Government (represented by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage), local government (The City of Warsaw), and a Non-Governmental Organization (The Association of the Jewish Historical Institute). The public bodies are responsible for financing the erection of the Museum’s building, while the private partner for fund-raising for the main exhibition and completing its set-up.
The museum began its work program in April 2013. Since that time, the temporary exhibitions, concerts, debates and seminars, educational workshops were organized. By the end of January 2014 the museum had hosted more than 200 thousand visitors.
Located at 6 Anielewicza Street in Warsaw, the museum's initial opening is now scheduled for 28 October, 2014.
Source: PAP, ed.mg, 5.2.2014
Translated with edits by: Katarzyna Maksimiuk, 6.2.2014