04 July 2007

Poland: Jewish Museum plans

The recent groundbreaking for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews was held in what was the Warsaw Ghetto, next to the monument to those who resisted the Nazis in the 1943 uprising, and close to the train siding where many were deported and perished.

Poland was home to Europe's largest Jewish community until World War II. There were some 3.3 million Jews or 10% of the country's population.

Although Holocaust exhibits will be included, the multimedia museum will celebrate the Jewish community that lived in Poland for a thousand years and produced a vibrant culture and leaders in many fields.

The story begins in the 10th century when Ibrahim ibn Jakub, a Jewish merchant from Arab Spain, first arrived in the Polish kingdom, and moves on to the 16th and 17th centuries when Poland provided a home for those expelled from other countries.

Additional galleries will take the story through the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto, postwar pogroms and state-sanctioned anti-semitism, and into a revival of Jewish life.

Museum creators say the project will chronicle the fate of Jews in their Eastern European homeland with interactive and multimedia displays and video - not just traditional artifacts and exhibits - in order to give visitors a deeper sense of what was lost.

Among plans: reconstructing an 18th century wooden synagogue's painted ceiling, and projected images producing a typical bustling 1920s Jewish street.

"This will not be another Holocaust museum," said Marian Turski, one of the originators of the idea for the museum, and president of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland. "It will be a museum of life."

The structure was designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamaki and Ilmari Lahdelma and will open in two years.

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