Europe: A Continent of Reconciliation?
40 Years after Willy Brandt's Visit to Warsaw
Conference on December 7, 2010, Royal Castle of Warsaw


Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
The decisive impulse for the construction of the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews came from the former director of the Jewish Museum in Washington, Shaike Weinberg. Born in Warsaw he envisioned a memorial place to advance the understanding of the Jewish cultural history and to promote the dialogue between the Polish and the Jews. In 1996 the Society of the Jewish Historic Institute in Warsaw initialized the project with support from the city of Warsaw, the Polish Minister of Culture as well as a group of international donators and supporters. The objective of the museum is to present the history of Polish Jews and their rich culture that evolved in over 1000 years of history. Apart from the preservation of the legacy of Jewish culture it also intends to build a bridge between past and present by means of an interactive and broad exhibition promoting a new dialog in the spirit of tolerance and acceptance.
The exhibition is being conceptualized by an international team of scientists from Poland, the USA and Israel as well as members of the museum itself. There will be seven historical galleries depicting the history of the formerly largest Jewish community in the world. The journey will start in the early middle-ages with the first Jews in Poland and continues with the creation of the first „Schtetl“ in the 17th century. It goes on to tell about Jewish life in major towns during the 19th century until the “Machtergreifung” of Adolf Hitler in Germany with the horrors of the Holocaust, closing with the situation of the Jews in communist Poland. Finally, contemporary witnesses will be given the opportunity to share their experiences. This exhibition will use about a third of the museum’s space. The rest shall be used for temporary exhibitions, a multi-purpose room for conferences, concerts and movie screenings as well as rooms for seminars, a restaurant and a Café.
Poland was formerly home to the largest Jewish community in the world and was the center of the Jewish Diaspora. At the same time it was one of the most culturally versatile communities, but only recently has the awareness of the common Polish-Jewish heritage risen again. About 10% of the Polish population, about 3.5 million were of Jewish faith. Only 280.000 of them survived the Second World War and many of them left the country in the post-war years because of prosecution or were forced to leave during anti-Semitic campaigns during the 1960s.
In Warsaw the Nazis established a ghetto, which temporarily was inhabited by up to 500.000 people. While many of them died of hunger and epidemics most were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp and murdered there. Shortly before the final extermination of the ghetto in April 1943 the last inhabitants of the ghetto rose against their oppressors which was brutally subdued and cost the life of thousands of insurgents. In commemoration of this uprising a first monument was erected in 1946 on the ground of the former ghetto which was complemented with a larger monument in 1947. At this place the historic “Kniefall” of Willy Brandt occurred in 1970. The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews will be located right next to this monument. Its opening is planned for 2012.