‘It all emanated from Poland’

Chief rabbis agree: Polin Museum shows how much Polish and Jewish culture owe each other.

Visitors form a queue at the entrance to the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Visitors form a queue at the entrance to the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and Rabbi Michael Shudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, had much to say after they attended the opening of Warsaw’s Polin Museum, which tells the story of a thousand years of Jewish life in the country.
While Lau found certain faults with the museum that he toured for three hours on Tuesday, he valued its importance as a means of teaching people about what Polish Jewry used to be and what it had contributed to Polish culture.
On the other hand, it bothered him that the first Jews to whom visitors are introduced are merchants, and after that, tax collectors.
These were not Jewish professions, Lau told The Jerusalem Post. Jews were nomads at the time, and as such had little option but to engage in buying and selling.
They were then made tax collectors and were given other professions associated with money.
Lau’s impression of the museum is that it is definitely not another Holocaust museum, although the Holocaust hovers in the background.
Shudrich said that every non-Jew who comes to the museum will get to understand more about Jews and Judaism and what was in Poland before World War II.
“Poles will realize that Jews created here and contributed to Polish culture, while Poland gave Jews the opportunity to keep their own culture and traditions.
“Regardless of what sort of a Jew anyone may be today, it all emanated from Poland, said Shudrich.
Lau and Shudrich were among the guests at a state dinner at the presidential palace hosted by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and his, Anna, wife in honor of President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama.
Another guest, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, has set up formal and informal educational projects from kindergarten to adult education in Poland through his Lauder Foundation.
He told the Post the Polin Museum was “fabulous” because “there you felt the connection between Poland and the Jewish people.”
Former ambassador to Poland and Knesset speaker Szewach Weiss, who is treated as a celebrity in Poland, was also a guest.
Weiss received more local television coverage in relation to the museum than did Rivlin.
At the state dinner, Komorowski said that he was certain that the museum will become a center for dialogue between Poles and Jews and between Poland and Israel, and will thus bring new elements into the relations.
The Holocaust all but put an end to Jewish continuity in Poland, said Komorowski, who welcomed the renewal of Jewish life in Poland and emphasized the importance of open dialogue.
Rivlin cited the wellsprings of Jewish literature, interpretations of Jewish law, Yiddish, and Hebrew as spoken language as well as different political movements that were the fruits of the sagacity of wise Polish Jews.
“Poland will remain inseparable from the Jews both for good and for bad,” he said, noting that today Warsaw is among Israel’s best friends in Europe.
Earlier in the day, Rivlin had recalled the courageous efforts of Polish non-Jews who had saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust and who have been recognized as Righteous among the Nations.
There are plaques and trees in honor of such people in Yad Vashem, and soon they will be perpetually honored in Poland where two buildings in recognition of their humane deeds will be constructed near the museum to remind people that during the darkest period of European anti-Semitism, when Nazis and their collaborators tried to eradicate the Jewish people from the face of the earth, there were decent Poles who risked their lives to save Jews whether they had known them previously or not, the president said.