Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Jewish Renaissance

Posters all over town had been announcing it for weeks, and this Tuesday it finally happened: The permanent exhibition of Warsaw's Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened its doors. The Israeli Prime Minister came to visit, crowds flogged to the square in the former Jewish Ghetto and there was an outdoor concert by Jon Krakauer and jazz legend Tomasz Stańko.

Warsaw on Tuesday night, preparing for the opening

But it was a prematurely cold night and I stayed home. What is worse, tickets for the exhibition had been sold out for days, and only today - 5 days later - did I manage to see it. It felt like a huge deal.

The wooden Gwoźdiec synagogue reconstructed 

I'm really not one of those people who can stay in museums very long, hence the shock when I came out and it was dark outside. I asked for the time and realised I'd been inside for 4 hours. The show is so engaging, so rich and varied, that you feel like you're time-travelling, from the early Middle-Ages through to the Industrial Revolution and beyond.

Workers in Izrael Poznański's textile factory in Łódź, 1890. 

A lot of it was new to me. The Holocaust is a small and potent part, but maybe more shocking are the sections about progroms in Polish towns after the war. The museum has done an amazing job of reconstructing post-war Poland, including an interactive study of how Polish Jews felt about Israel and their split identities, and interview with sculptor Alina Szapocznikow (who survived several death camps) and much much more. 

Alina Szapocznikow
Bizarrely, I didn't cry once - that wasn't the intention of this show. It ended on a note of hope, with videos about the revival of Poland's Jewish community. The only moment when tears welled up was when, towards the very end, I was watching a film made by an American director who returned to Poland in 1981. He visited the Polish woman who had saved him and the Catholic nuns who had looked after him until the war was over. They recognized him, kissed him on both cheeks, and welcomed him back. Now this is cause for celebration. 

1 comment:

  1. Swietny post, dzieki. Co roku latem jezdze do misateczek galicji zeby pamietac. Muzeum jest moim nastepnym przystankiem.