More than 7,000 people visited the first Polish Jewish history museum when it opened on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto this weekend.
Queues were already forming outside, as staff prepared to unlock the doors for the first public viewing of the museum, as part of celebrations to mark the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, on April 20.
A modern, multimedia-driven venue, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews looks at 1,000 years of Jewish culture in Poland. The story is presented through photographs, video, artifacts and interactive installations.
The museum’s mission statement is to explore the development of modern individual and collective identities amongst Poles and Jews, in Europe and across the world. And the museum’s Lucja Kock told Polish Radio that the focus would remain strongly on the facts.
She said: “We want to remind the younger generations about a multi-ethnic Poland. We are not going to this by falsifying history, and by presenting this as all one great, beautiful story, because that’s not how it was.”
Although the first public visitors to the museum arrived on April 20, one group had already been granted special access. They were the students from March of the Living, who celebrated Holocaust Memorial Day at Auschwitz-Birkenau near Kraków earlier in April.
Eli Rubenstein, national director of March of the Living Canada and director of education for March of the Living International, said: “One can’t help but notice, the tremendous enthusiasm, energy and passion that staff members have for their museum. It’s quite inspiring.”
Daniel Weiman, a student among the group, said: “The experience was very meaningful. When you walk in and see the walls… in my opinion it symbolises the parting of the Red Sea. That’s an important part of Jewish history.”
The students were joined on the day by Sidney Zoltak, a Holocaust survivor who now lives in Montreal, Canada. He was born in Siemiatycze, north-east Poland, close to the Treblinka death camp – where most of his family were murdered.
Mr Zoltak said: ” Showing 1,000 years of life in Jewish life in Poland is an excellent idea and a very important story to be told, not only to the Jewish people around the world, but also for the local Polish people living here.”
Małgorzata Berger-Jankowska, who welcomed the group to the museum, said it had been an exciting moment.
She added: “The guides, the educators are telling them about the history of this building, the symbolism of the architecture in the main hall, about which different people says different things – the parting of the Red Sea, the Egyptian desert, the colors of Israel. Every person has his own imagination about what it should symbolise.”
Pictures: Sidney Zoltak (left), and students from March of the Living at the museum (right). Front, queues form outside the museum on opening day (Museum of the History of Polish Jews).