Jewish Journal

Opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw

by Ruth Ellen Gruber

April 16, 2013 | 3:16 am

I look at the installation of the painted ceiling of the destroyed Gwozdziec ceiling, the only permanent installation yet visible in the museum

I'm in Warsaw for events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- and yesterday I filed a story for JTA on the "soft" opening of the long-awaited, long-delayed Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Though I am not in love with the exterior of the buildng -- except for its location opposite the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Memorial -- I was very impressed with the interior. In particular the way the big glass gash of an entrance frames the memorial when you look out from inside.

For me, who has followed the development of the museum for nearly 20 years, it was a rather emotional (and emotionally satisfying) moment to finally be inside -- and to connect and reconnect with so many people I've encountered here in Poland since the 1980s.

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) -- Krzysztof Sliwinski, a longtime Catholic activist in Jewish-Polish relations, gazed wide-eyed at the swooping interior of this city's Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Nearly two decades in the making, the more than $100 million institution officially opens to the public this week amid a month of high-profile, state-sponsored events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

“It’s incredible, incredible, incredible how things have changed,” Sliwinski told JTA. “I remember commemorations of the ghetto uprising under communism when only a few people showed up. How good it was that we were optimistic.”

Sliwinski organized Jewish cemetery cleanups and other pro-Jewish initiatives under communism, when Jewish practice and culture were suppressed by the regime.

In 1995, then-Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor, appointed him post-Communist Poland’s first official ambassador to the Jewish Diaspora, part of the state’s unprecedented outreach policy.

On Sunday, both Sliwinski, now 73, and Bartoszewski, 91, joined hundreds of local Jews and other VIPs as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, unveiled a mezuzah at the museum’s main entrance.

Read the full story


In writing this peice, it was fascinating to go back and see what I -- and others -- had written back in the 1990s.

New York Times 1996 piece on opposition/ambivalence regarding the museum project

My 1996 story on Sliwinski as Poland's ambassador to the Jewish Diaspora

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The award-winning American writer Ruth Ellen Gruber has chronicled contemporary Jewish developments in Europe for more than two decades. As the author of National Geographic...

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