Jewish history museum opens at Warsaw ghetto

Opening ceremony coincides with 70th anniversary of uprising • Facility to offer educational activities.

Warsaw museum 370 (photo credit: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews)
Warsaw museum 370
(photo credit: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews)
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 wreaths.
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 the museum.
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.
Construction 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.
“I know that this area was once the Jewish ghetto,” said Kasia, a 17-year-old high school student.
“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.
When 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 battles.
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.