Museum of the History of Polish Jews
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (Polish: Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich) is a museum on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The Hebrew word Polin in the museum's name means, in English, either "Poland" or "rest here" and is related to a legend on the arrival of the first Jews in Poland. The cornerstone was laid in 2007, and the museum was first opened on April 19, 2013. The museum's Core Exhibition opened in October 2014. The museum features a multimedia narrative exhibition about the vibrant Jewish community that flourished in Poland for a thousand years up to the Holocaust. The building, a postmodern structure in glass, copper, and concrete, was designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamäki and Ilmari Lahdelma.
The Core Exhibition occupies more than 4,000 m2 of space. It consists of eight galleries that document and celebrate the thousand-year history of the Jewish community in Poland – once the largest Jewish community in the world – that was almost entirely destroyed during the Holocaust. The exhibition includes a multimedia narrative with interactive installations, paintings and oral histories, among other features created by more than 120 scholars and curators. One item is a replica of the roof and ceiling of a 17th-century Gwoździec synagogue. The galleries are:
- Forest – This gallery tells the tale of how, fleeing from persecution in Western Europe, the Jews came to Poland. For the next 1,000 years, the country would become the largest European home for the Jewish community.
- First Encounters (the Middle Ages) – This gallery is devoted to the first Jewish settlers in Poland. Visitors 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 is the first sentence written in Yiddish in the prayer book of 1272.
- Paradisus Iudaeorum (15th and 16th centuries) – This gallery presents how the Jewish community was organized and what role Jews played in the country’s economy. One of the most important elements in this gallery is an interactive model of Kraków and Jewish Kazimierz, showing the rich culture of the local Jewish community. Visitors learn that religious tolerance in Poland made it a "Paradisus ludaeorum" (Jewish paradise). This golden age of the Jewish community in Poland ended with pogroms during the Khmelnitsky Uprising. This event is 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 is 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 the Ukraine.
- Encounters with Modernity (19th century) – This gallery presents the time of the partitions when Jews shared the fate of Polish society divided between Austria, Prussia and Russia. The exhibition includes the role played by Jewish entrepreneurs, such as Izrael Kalmanowicz Poznański, in the industrial revolution in Polish lands. Visitors also learn about changes 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 – This gallery is 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 is presented with the most important political events of the interwar period. The exhibition also highlights Jewish film, theatre and literature.
- Holocaust – This gallery shows the tragedy of the Holocaust during the German occupation of Poland, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 90% of the 3.3 million Polish Jews. Visitors are shown the history of the Warsaw Ghetto and introduced to Emanuel Ringelblum and Oneg Shabbat. The gallery also covers the horrors experienced by the non-Jewish majority population of Poland during World War II as well as their reactions and responses to the extermination of Jews.
- Postwar Years – The last gallery shows 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 dynamic Jewish community in Poland.