WARSAW – The museum of the History of Polish Jews will hold an opening ceremony
for its first completed phase this Friday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of
the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The official opening of the entire museum
will take place next year.
On Passover eve in April 1943, a group of
young Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto staged a resistance against German troops after
they learned of mass exterminations in the forced labor camps. The streets of
the former Jewish ghetto still bear the signs of the tragedy that took place
there and occasionally tourists come to see, photograph and lay
The idea to build a museum solely dedicated to the history of
the Jews in Poland was born in 1996, said Piotr Kossobudzki, the spokesman for
In 2005, an international competition was held for the design
of the museum and the winner was the famous Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamaki.
The Warsaw Municipality donated a parcel of land located at the center of the
former ghetto and in front of the monument to the uprising.
began in 2008 with a ceremony laying the cornerstone, and the first phase of
building was completed this year.
Residents of the neighborhood are aware
of its history, that hundreds of thousands of Jews were imprisoned and sent to
extermination camps where they died in gas chambers.
“Many times I meet
people who come and wander around,” said Malgorzata, 64, who lives on Anielewicz
Street. “As soon as I see them standing with a map in their hands, I know that
they are looking for the Umschlagplatz or for the monument for the Warsaw Ghetto
Uprising Heroes. Usually they come from Israel.”
The younger generation
is also aware of the history of the place in which they live.
that this area was once the Jewish ghetto,” said Kasia, a 17-year-old high
“We learned about it in school and we were taken for a
guided tour here.”
The uprising became a symbol of the greatest Jewish
resistance to the Holocaust. As stories of the extermination camps reached the
Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto, a large group there decided to launch a
struggle against the Nazis.
Two underground organizations were formed –
The Jewish Combat Organization led by Mordechai Anielewicz, and the Jewish
Military Union led by Pawel Frenkel.
Despite the common goal of fighting
the Nazis and for their lives, the members of the organizations operated
separately. Both organizations failed to bridge their ideological gaps – the
Combat Organization held socialist and communist views while the Military Union
was a Revisionist right movement.
They were supported by Armia Krajowa,
the Polish underground, which smuggled weapons into the ghetto.
German troops entered the ghetto on Passover eve to round up its inhabitants,
members of the Jewish underground groups opened fire from rooftops and windows
of the ghetto houses in a planned resistance. The Germans suffered heavy losses
and were forced to retreat.
The same day, on Muranowski Street in the
center of Warsaw, two young Jews each raised a flag – a white and blue one and
the Polish flag – which became the symbol of the resistance. Once the Nazis
realized they were facing an armed rebellion, they returned to the ghetto with
reinforcements, moving from house to house trying to suppress the opposition.
Fierce fighting continued until May 16, when the few remaining Jewish fighters
surrendered after most of their friends had been killed in the
With the opening of the museum, a new tool is available to
educate future generations.
“We will start workshops and educational
activities about Polish Jewry and the Holocaust for young people,” Kossobudzki
said. “We will open an educational center dedicated to the history of Polish
Jews. We will have lectures, movie screenings, concerts, workshops for children
and adults and the temporary exhibitions. Meanwhile, we will start to install
the core exhibition.”
Kossobudzki says that a special team has been
working on assembling the planned exhibits since 1995. The large museum covers
an area of 13,000 sq.m. During a preopening tour given to The Jerusalem Post
Kossobudzki said the museum will include a permanent exhibition with rotating
temporary exhibitions. The museum’s staff is proud of the fact that a large
portion of the museum will be dedicated to educational activities for students
from Poland and from around the world. The management of the museum, he said,
expects half a million visitors each year.