Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kaczyński's legacy: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews

The Jewish History Institute (Żydowski Institut Historyczny) was the first to take the initiative to create the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, became the official patron of the undertaking, followed after the 2005 election by the late President Lech Kaczyński.

The Museum is being funded mainly from private and NGO donations from USA, Germany, UK and Poland. Today the Museum already has a project of the building and was able to collect a unique documentation of Polish judaica from around the world. The City of Warsaw, which was at that time governed by Lech Kaczyński, donated the land for the Museum – which is right on the opposite side of the Ghetto Fighter’s Memorial – and in 2005 the Government of Poland, Warsaw City Council signed an agreement which regulates the administration and funding channels of the future Museum.

The Museum’s role is to promote the culture of Polish Jews, a 1000-year old community that was annihilated by the Nazis in less then 5 years, as well as to support the growing Jewish community in Poland, in order to rethink Polish-Jewish relations. It will aim at exposing all the sides of these relations, both bright and dark ones.

Museum manages many different projects. Here are 3 main projects that the Museum is a sponsor of:

Polish Righteous (Polscy Sprawiedliwi) – the Museum started this project in July 2007. It’s purpose serves commemorating and preventing the Polish Righteous Among the Nations from being forgotten. Collecting documentation and exposing the deeds of people who rescued Jews in occupied Poland is the main method of fulfilling this aim. Polish public opinion didn’t hear about The Righteous for years, due to Communist government policies. Today, there are 510 Polish Righteous alive, out of 6000, who were awarded with the medal of Yad Vashem Memorial Institute. The website of the project contains so far tens of reports that include photos, audio files and documents. Website users can also give their own testimony, which later will be translated to English in order to reach out of Poland.

The Virtual Shtetl – Polish Jewry local history website. The website aims at collecting information from the Internet users about the Shtetls – small Jewish towns in Easter Poland. The website will collect information about modern Poland and its cities and towns, but also about the pre-war Poland.

Israel-Poland student exchange – Every year a group of about 10-15 Polish students go to Tel Aviv University from October till January. Every year they present to their Israeli peers and Tel Aviv intellectual elites an exhibit on Polish culture, history, and today’s successes and achievements.

In addition, a group of Israeli students visit Poland for 8 to 10 days in August/September and tour Poland seeing not only the death camps in Oświęcim, Majdanek or Treblinka but spending more time visiting the most important historical, cultural and everyday life sites of Jewish Community in Poland. Students will also participate in workshops and fieldtrip with their Polish peers, which help to integrate the group and allow them to open up for each other.

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