So that Our songs will be sung again, Our stories retold, Our achievements, lauded, Our joys celebrated...
...We ask you to join with us in support of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews
A Message from Sigmund Rolat, Chairman The North American Council is a nonprofit organization supporting the mission of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews by raising crucial funds for the permanent exhibition and educational programs.
n behalf of the north american council, i invite you on a journey. It is the journey that our parents and grandparents, and theirs in turn, took. It is a journey through our civilization and culture, our scholarship and philosophy, our successes and, sadly, our near destruction. A journey spanning 1,000 years of the history of Polish Jewry. It is a journey through the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Opening in 2012, The Museum of the History of Polish Jews—which even now is rising on hallowed ground at the center of what was once the Warsaw Ghetto—will stand in tribute to the scholars and rabbis, authors and artists, philosophers and business leaders, shoemakers and trades-people, tailors and wagon drivers, who came together to shape and influence, not only Jewish history in Poland, but the history of Western Civilization. This civilization came to an abrupt halt under German occupation that forever singed the soil of Poland.
Today, we have an opportunity to work in partnership with the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the City of Warsaw, which are providing the land and funds for the construction and operations of the Museum’s building. In celebration of Poland’s vibrant Jewish history, we invite the American Jewish community, 70 percent of whom trace their ancestry to Poland, to help support the exhibitions and programming of the Museum.To paraphrase my role model and our great benefactor, Tad Taube, the historical legacy of Jewish life in Poland has undeniably served as the cornerstone of Western Civilization. Join us, as we stand in awe of what was achieved. Join us, in breathless admiration of who we once were and who we are. Join us, in preserving our history and our voice for now and for generations to come. With your support, future generations may also take this journey with admiration and awe. Join us.
Those who visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will begin their journey through 1,000 years of the history of Polish Jews at the memorial to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which stands in defiant memory on the square across from the museum.
a tale to tell
This is Our Story
or nearly 1,000 years, poland welcomed Jews—many of whom had been expelled from neighboring European communities—and granted them a safe haven. In every aspect of life, whether in culture, scholarship, art or business, the millions of Jews who once called Poland home led a life on par with their non-Jewish neighbors, and unmatched anywhere in the world, so that by the end of the 19th century, Jews were an estimated ten percent of the population of Polish lands, and made up half, sometimes more, of the urban population.
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews—a center for education and culture—is dedicated to preserving the lasting legacy of Jewish life in Poland and of the civilization created by Polish Jews over the course of a millennium. The Museum will foster respect for Jewish tradition and culture and stimulate dialogue in the spirit of mutual acceptance and tolerance. As we take this journey together to experience the story—the story of what came before, what came after, and what is yet to come— we will learn our own story. It is the story of our patrimony, of our grandparents, our mothers and fathers. It is a proud story.
A Place Unlike any Other
HIS WILL BE A PLACE UNLIKE ANY OTHER. A museum unlike any we have known. It will stand as a celebration of the Jewish existence in Poland and inform future generations wishing to discover a people who shaped world history. This museum will breathe life into artifacts and give a pulse to manuscripts and photographs. It will come alive with sound and light. Vibrate with music and expression. It will enlighten the visitor with stories of the Polish Jewish Everyman and the Polish Jewish Genius. Stories of the Shtetl and The Palace, of the lives Jews lived and the dreams they dreamed.
Using a wide variety of primary sources, media, and cutting-edge technology, the Museum will create evocative environments, engrossing narratives, and interactive installations that encourage visitors to explore subjects in depth. More a â€œtheater of historyâ€? than a conventional exhibition of objects and labels, galleries will creatively engage the minds and hearts of diverse visitors of all nations and ages, especially children.
A Journey of a Thousand Years Event Communications of London, a world-class design team, is creating the galleries for a multimedia narrative experience.
into the country
The design evokes the parting of the Red Sea.
Architects Ilmari Lahdelma and Rainer Mahlamaki of Helsinki, Finland, won the first international competition for the design of a public building in Poland.
The Museum represents a partnership between the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the City of Warsaw, which are providing the land and funds for the construction and operations of the Museumâ€™s building.
Barbara KirshenblattGimblett, professor of performance studies at New York University, serves as the head of the Core Exhibition Planning Team.
encounters with modernity
The Museum will encompass 104,000 square feet, with more than 45,000 square feet devoted to the core exhibition.
An Education Center will host school groups and a student exchange. Facilities for conferences, lectures, symposia, film screenings, performances, and temporary exhibitions will also be available.
Construction began in 2009, and the Museum will open in 2012.
Approximately 500,000 visitors are expected annually: 50 percent from abroad, most from the U.S. and Israel.
the museum galleries
First Encounters 10th - 15th centuries
The Beginnings of the Jewish Settlement in the Polish lands
rom poland’s very founding, the earliest Jews who came to settle were craftspeople and merchants with wares to sell. They were welcomed by a tolerant government. Influential in advancing the commercial interests of the land, their freedom to worship, trade and travel was protected—something that was unique in a medieval Christian Europe. And while there were accusations of “blood libel” as well as disputes between Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors, Jews still did not face the restrictions and oppressions common in other European countries.
Casimir the Great welcomed Jews to Poland with open arms. Migrating primarily from Germany, Jews settled in lands called Ashkenaz in the 14th and 15th centuries, where they thrived and began to form a middle class in a community that was largely divided between wealthy land owners and peasants. When in 1492, Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal, Poland again became a place of refuge. With increased population, a new vibrancy rose in the community, leading to the Golden Age of Polish Jewry.
Visitors will begin their journey by entering a symbolic “forest” filled with the sounds of texts from this period. As they leave the forest and wander further through the gallery, they will be enchanted by archeological finds and documents chronicling Jewish life in this era, including a tombstone from the Silesia region, the oldest known artifact confirming the Jewish historical presence in the land. The highlight will be the full reconstruction of a 15th century Jewish home.
the museum galleries
Paradisus Judeorum 16th - mid 17th centuries
The “Golden Age” of Polish Jewry
y the 16th century, poland became a safe haven for Jews from across Europe, many of whom were fleeing persecution from religious strife. For hundreds of years more Jews lived in Poland than anywhere else in the world. Jews were largely held in favor by their neighbors, as well as by the country’s leadership and prospered as never before. The Va’ad Arba’ Artzot, the (Jewish) Council of the Four Lands (of Poland), was the only Jewish executive political body to exist between the destruction of the Second Temple and the creation of the Jewish Agency in Palestine. With a continued influx of Jews, the community’s wealth increased to the point where, for many, earning a living could be temporarily set aside in favor of study, and the acquisition of Talmudic knowledge and concentration on scholarship became increasingly prevalent. The Shulchan Aruch, the monumental codification of Jewish law, was adopted for Ashkenazi practice by Rabbi Moshe Isserles in Krakow and yeshivot thrived across the lands. The resulting scholarship influences Jewish observance and belief to this day.
In this gallery, visitors will examine a scale model of the Jewish quarter in the city of Krakow. They will also interact with exhibits that illuminate the blossoming of Jewish scholarship during the period when Poland became one of the most significant communities in the Diaspora. A “Virtual Library” of Hebrew and Yiddish religious literature of this period will illustrate the complex Talmudic thought scholars of this era produced.
the museum galleries
Into the Country 16th - mid 17th centuries
n the 17th and 18th centuries, polish cities declined and the Polish market town, known as the shtetl in Yiddish, emerged as the center of Jewish life. Jewish communities rooted themselves in these towns, playing key roles in the Polish agricultural economy. Wealthier Jews did business with the Polish landowners, while poorer Jews served the peasants, typically once a week on market day. Towards the end of this period, as the Polish state was being partitioned by the powerful empires that surrounded it, a new movement of Jewish renewal called Hasidism began to reinvigorate Jewish tradition and religious practice.
Up until this period, Talmudic study had been commonplace among Jews. Yet, with a drop in wealth, only a limited number of students entered yeshivot. Hasidism, an impassioned sect of Judaism, emerged and has influenced Orthodox Judaism into modern times. Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, also reemerged, now under the influence of Hasidism. Dynasties of elite scholars were established, including Chabad Lubavitch and many other Hasidic Courts, commonly known in the present day. Some Jews started to consider a more secular lifestyle, and the first fissure within the once-homogenous Jewish community came about, thus creating the early roots of Jewish affiliations commonplace today.
Under the reconstructed vault of a wooden synagogue from this era, visitors will experience the look and feel of the most central building in these Jewish communities. Other multi-media presentations will allow visitors to explore Jewish texts authored during this period.
the museum galleries
Encounters with Modernity late 18th century to WWI
Tradition Renewed and Challenged: Jews under Three Empires
rom the end of the 18th century through the end of World War I, Polish lands were ruled by German, Austrian, and Russian empires, making a lasting impact on the lives of an estimated four million Jews who called this region home. The period is marked by a move to an industrial economy in which Jews prospered. Official government policies wavered between harsh and enlightened; enforcement of tolerant laws was haphazard at best. While Jews were encouraged to pursue a secular education and obtain professional skills, they also faced double taxation in lieu of army service. For those who had to choose the army, sons were often victims of forced conversion. This period was also marked by a deeper and growing split in the Jewish community: while many Jews still held fervently to their religious faith, others stepped outside Judaismâ€™s boundaries to embrace modernity.
Installations in this gallery will project montages of images graphically displaying life in the emerging cities and industrial centers: railroad stations, factories, Socialist and Zionist activism, the rise of a modern Jewish culture in Yiddish and Hebrew, as well as in Polish and Russian. Visitors will understand how the lives of Jews changed as they became subjects of three partitioning empires, each with changing laws governing the Jewish community and varying degrees of tolerance for it.
the museum galleries
The Street 1918 â€“ 1939
Into Modernity: Shaping a New Polish Jewish World
rom 1918 through 1939, 3.5 million jews lived as citizens of a reborn Polish state: the Second Polish Republic. While political anti-Semitism grew during these years, Jews were largely free to pursue their lives as they saw fit. They voted in national, municipal and Jewish council elections, attended both public and private, secular and religious schools, created literature and scholarship in Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew. They became prominent members of the Polish intelligentsia, literary, and arts communities (e.g., Brzechwa, Tuwim, Korczak). Propelled by the energy of masses of young people, they founded political parties, sports clubs, musical societies, theater companies (professional and amateur), libraries, literary societies, hospitals, and a wide range of charitable organizations. Some Jews began to think of themselves as Poles of the Jewish faith, but most saw themselves as Polish Jews, a Jewish nationality in a multinational Polish state. The divisions were often most evident at the family dinner table: one child might be a pious Yeshiva student, while his brothers and sisters might be Communists, Bundists, or Zionists.
Visitors will stroll through a full-size recreation of a main street in the Jewish quarter of Warsaw. Video projections on the facades of buildings will introduce the visitor to the life of this era; gates will open into courtyards in which various aspects of culture, politics, and daily life are presented.
the museum galleries
Holocaust 1939 – 1945
The Near-Destruction of Polish Jewry
n the years leading up to the Holocaust, anti-Semitism mounted and “blood libel” rumors arose again as Poles often resented their Yiddish-speaking neighbors. When Germany marched into Poland in 1939, all Jewish property and businesses were nationalized and within a day, Jewish schools, as well as Polish and Jewish media, were shut down. Several hundred synagogues were destroyed by the Germans who often forced Jews to commit the destruction themselves. Germany ordered all Jews to register with the state, and the punishment for helping a Jew was immediate death.
By the end of 1941, Jews were forced to wear the Jewish star arm band and were openly beaten in the streets. The Warsaw Ghetto, along with other town Ghettos, was established to confine Jews. Severe overcrowding, starvation, lice, and typhoid caused incalculable deaths. The Nazi “Final Solution” was carried out in Germanoccupied Poland where all but a tiny fraction of Jews perished in the death camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Sobibor, and Chelmno. Yet, despite all odds, countless Jews resisted their Nazi oppressors in myriad ways, from cultural creation to armed combat: above all, simply by staying alive.
Documents from the Warsaw and Lodz Ghettos and from many other towns in Poland will be used to present the life and death, and life in the shadow of death of Poland’s 3.5 million Jews. The gallery cannot attempt to replicate the events of the Holocaust, but seeks to allow visitors to understand the extreme situations and tragic moments in which Jews found themselves.
the museum galleries
Post War Years 1945 to date
Polish Jews after the Holocaust
ollowing the war, Poland came under direct Communist Soviet control. With all but 300,000 of Polandâ€™s more-than three million Jews having perished, with a once vibrant Jewish community in physical and spiritual tatters, its families severed and businesses gone forever, those who survived faced shattered lives. The Polish Zionist movement combined with the genocide of the Holocaust had a decisive impact on the vision for the creation of the State of Israel. Jews left Poland in waves for Israel or other lands. Following the death of Stalin in 1956, the borders opened resulting in another wave of Jewish emigration from Poland. In 1968, a so-called anti-Zionist campaign waged by the government forced many Jews, even those who worked in the government, out of the country. Nevertheless, a Jewish presence, however small, remained in Poland. The Solidarity movement, beginning in the early 1980s, fought the communist system and finally toppled it in 1989. Interest in the Jewish past began to grow among young Poles. In post-communist Poland, a small Jewish community revived, bolstered by widespread mainstream interest in Jewish culture, past and present.
Set against a backdrop of a panorama of the destruction, will be testimonies of those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Their voices will stand as a stalwart expression of determination to survive and preserve the memory of those who perished. This gallery will focus on Polandâ€™s Jewish community after the Holocaust and the increasing Polish fascination with its Jewish past.
the museum galleries
Accomplishments Beyond Compare
he impact of the polish jewish community is felt throughout the world. Beginning with the migration from the Polish lands of some three million Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors, and through the most recent migrations of 1956 and 1968, Polish Jews have been scattered throughout the world. They have built the State of Israel and shaped hundreds of Jewish communities in North and South America, Western Europe, and South Africa. Their accomplishments in art, scholarship, religion, media, science, and business are beyond compare.
No people, who were once persecuted, orphaned, and penniless have gone on to achieve such staggering heights. They are the social scientists and Nobel laureates of the world. They have graced our walls with stunning artwork and left us breathless with their music. They have educated us in secular and religious subjects and enriched our understanding of economics, psychology, and medicine. Each of us owes a debt of gratitude to the Polish Jews who have transformed our understanding of the world around us and brought infinite pleasure to our daily lives. This gallery will mark their eternal legacy and focus on hope for the future of the Polish Jewish community.
This gallery will illustrate the lasting legacy of Polish Jewry with examples of their achievements in such areas as: architecture, entertainment, classical music, mathematics, the military, religion, medicine, linguistics, drama, film, popular culture, art, literature, politics, economics, and science.
Please Support Our Mission
A Blessing; A Duty: A Call to Action
ince the end of world war II, the jewish footprint in Poland has been gradually erased. Today, however, although the Jewish population of Poland remains small, Jewish presence in public consciousness is large. There is a new eagerness to understand that the story of Poland is not complete without the story of Polish Jews: that the vibrant, once-burgeoning Jewish community of Poland influenced history in ways that are beyond compare. At the same time, throughout the world, the descendants of Polish Jews are increasingly interested in knowing the story of the world from which their ancestors emigrated. From its symbolic architecture to its all-engaging galleries, The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a portal into that story. No trip to Warsaw, indeed to Poland, will be complete without visiting the Museum. It is our duty to make certain that this story is told, that this theater of history comes alive. This is our part of the journey: to ensure that, though the lives of millions may be lost, through us our songs will be sung again, our stories retold, our achievements lauded, and our joys celebrated. Join us.
Daniel Libeskind, Meir Shapiro, David Miliband, Esther Wertheimer, Max Weber, Isidor Isaac Rabi. first rowKazimierz Brandys, :)R -L ( Jacob Epstein, Ida Fink, Albert Sabin, Albert Abraham Michelson, Henry Roth, Boris Kaufman. second row Simon Wiesenthal, :)R -L ( Benny Goodman, Emanuel Ax, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Hannah Krall, Gideon Hausner, Mordechai Gebirtig. third row Benoît Mandelbrot, :)R -L ( fourth row Nelly Ben-Or,:)R -L (Sholem Asch, Elie Nadelman, Abraham Foxman, Sir George Henschel, Bronislaw Huberman, Solomon Asch. Billy Wilder, Adam Michnik, Arthur MilLer, Ida Kaminska, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Ludwik Zamenhof. fifth row Marek Edelman, :)R -L ( J. D. Salinger, Hyman Rickover, Helena Rubinstein, Joseph Roth, Paul Muni, Jack Warner. sixth row Mordecai Ardon, :)R -L ( Ida Haendel, Avraham Stern, Frank Owen Gehry, Artur Schnabel, Alicia Appleman-Jurman, Yitzhak Halevi Herzog. seventh rowWładysław Szpilman, :)R -L ( Jacob Bronowski, Samuel Goldwyn, Anna Held, David Dubinsky, Janusz Korczak, Yitzak Rabin. eighth row Raphael Lemkin, :)R -L ( ninth row Shimon Peres, :)R -L ( Arthur Rubinstein, Myer Prinstein, Abraham Ribicoff, Israel Meir Lau, Wanda Landowska, Eddie Rosner. Zeev Ben-Zvi, Agnieszka Holland, Marian Hemar, Jacob Talmon, Arthur Hertzberg, Zuzanna Ginczanka. tenth row Erna Rosenstein, :)R -L ( design and conceptual direction: Jessica Weber Design, inc. / www.jwdnyc.com. artwork courtesy: Lahdelma & Mahlamaki; event communications; The Museum of the History of Polish Jews; Jessica Weber Design, inc.