History in a Suitcase: Emigration Museum in Gdynia
#photography & visual arts
small, History in a Suitcase: Emigration Museum in Gdynia, Emigration Museum in Gdynia, photo: Maciej Moskwa, muzeum_emigracji_w_gdyni_fot_maciej_moskwa.jpg
The pre-war Baltic sea, the legendary ocean-liner Batory and the stories of millions of emigrants all in one place. The historic building of the Marine Station in Gdynia is being prepared for the formal opening of the Emigration Museum. This modern cultural institution, the only one of its kind in Poland, is set to flourish in the heart of the historical harbour.
Gdynia, "a window to the world" and the pride of the Second Republic of Poland, was a key element of the government's emigration policy. In the 1930s a complex system of emigration services was created here, centred around the then representative edifice of the Marine Station – today the premises of the Emigration Museum. It took just a single year to construct this building after its commission in 1933. The station was to serve all of the passenger movement in the sea port, including shipping thousands of people by sea. Hence, this facility is strongly embedded in the history of emigration; it is a place where Polish emigration routes converged.
Now it will host a modern interactive museum which will commemorate the stories of émigrés of different historical periods: from the “Great Migration” after the November Uprising, through the labour migrations of the Industrial Revolution, to the dramatic fate of the Poles during WWII and the contemporary wave of emigration. One will also get to meet the Polish diaspora of the USA and Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century. The gigantic model of the famous ocean liner Batory will allow visitors to experience what it was like to travel on “Europe’s most fashionable salon”. The 1:10 scale model of Batory, which weighs 2 tons, will be the main attraction of the museum.
The museum’s founders admit that recreating the ship’s interiors, which is returning to the harbour after a few years of absence, was an enormous logistical challenge, simply because of incomplete documentation related to, among other things, its colour scheme. It’s worth the wait, the museum’s director Karolina Grabowicz-Matyjas assures us, for this will be the world’s largest model of a passenger liner:
[the model] was created based on the original documentation of the Batory from the thirties. We looked for it for a long time, almost all over the world, beginning at the harbour in Monfalcone in Italy, where the Batory was constructed, through many other countries and institutions. We got help from admirers of the transatlantic liner, among whom we found a collector who sold us the ship’s complete technical documentation. Thanks to this enormous search, we were able to acquire abundant photographic documentation showing the Batory’s interiors. We recreated the interiors based on these pictures. It’s a meticulous process – we care about details such as the texture of fabrics or wallpapers. We try to recreate the original colours of particular elements of the equipment, although here we must often rely on guesswork, because all the photos that we have are, unfortunately, black and white.
– Grabowicz-Matyjas said.
In between 1936 and 1969, the Batory travelled between Gdynia and North America, later also reaching Asia. It shipped around 270 thousand passengers in total. At the inauguration exhibition, the ship’s model will tie the emigration history of Poles from the interwar period and the difficult post-war years. For many, Batory remains a symbol of the connection between Poland and the free world. For 33 years, the Batory witnessed great romances, dramas and split-ups; famous artists like Adolf Dymsza, Kalina Jędrusik, Hanka Ordonówna and Wojciech Kossak travelled onboard the Batory. Andrzej Munk’s The Passenger was filmed in its insides. As the only Polish transatlantic liner which continued to cross the ocean, it had an important meaning for the generations of Polish emigrants who will soon tell their stories.
The Emigration Museum will be a modern cultural institution which will combine exhibitions and artistic and educational facilities. It will also feature a cinema and an area for theatrical performances, as well as an archive made up documents, souvenirs, and video and audio recordings of Polish emigrants. Anyone can share their story.
The museum has been presented with family souvenirs of Chris Niedenthal, a world-famous photographer. His mother, a stenographer at the Polish Photo Agency, crossed the Romanian border, along with the Polish authorities, on 17 September 1939. Then, she made it to London via France, where she lived until her death.
After she died I found an old cardboard suitcase hidden under the stairs of our family home. On an unobtrusive piece of paper glued to the suitcase mum wrote that it was the suitcase she had on her when she left Poland in September of 1939.
– said Chris Niedenthal, who gifted the museum with his mother’s suitcase and the passports of both of his parents.
There are plenty of touching stories of this sort.
We would like to convey, as faithfully as possible, the emotions felt by expatriates when they made the decision to emigrate, leave their family and friends, give up their lifestyles and homeland; to tell about the hardships of their journeys, their experiences of encounters with exotic, multi-cultural communities and the building of new identities in new lands. It will also be a story about the world of the emigration business from the inside: transport routes, logistics companies, people making a living by organizing the smuggling of migrants. Finally, it is about the port as a hub of the whole transport system and the conditions in which our fellow countrymen travelled to other worlds. It is the story, which concerns us all. The significance and scale of the phenomenon of emigration for our national identity is reflected by the fact that Poland is one of the nations with the largest scattering culture outside state borders.
– we read on the museum’s official website.
The Emigration Museum in Gdynia is scheduled to open on 16 May, 2015.
Sources: Emigration Museum, PAP, edit. AL., transl. Agata Dudek-Woyke, 30/04/15.
emigration museum in gdynia