Friday, August 5, 2011

Poland -- Museum of the History of Polish Jewry

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

During the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow last month, I spoke with Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett, who heads the team developing the core exhibit of the Museum of the History of Polish Jewry. The Q and A was published in The Forward.

The museum has gone through some rough patches in recent months, with the departure, under pressure, of its director, Jerzy Halbersztadt, and financial shortfalls. What can you say about the status of the institution?
First of all, one of the great strengths of the institution is that it does not depend on one person. And that is a tribute to the former director. This museum has the good fortune to have a very, very good team. And the team has rallied and is functioning in a very positive way. So I’m optimistic….

Financially, we struggle. But we have donors, led by Sigmund Rolat and Tad Taube, that have been with us and supported us for many years.

What have been the main challenges? Are you satisfied with the process and result so far?

Although I first started coming to Poland in 1981, it was not until I began working on this project that I began to realize what it means to tell the story of how Polish Jews lived — and not only how they died — here, in the very place where they created such a vibrant civilization. That story has been overshadowed, understandably, by the Holocaust.… What began as a challenge — there is no collection of objects that could support such a compelling story — turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity and lesson, so to speak, in how to bring history to life using every possible medium.

How close is the exhibition to being installed?

Our goal is to open April 2013. When he visited the museum in May, President Obama promised to bring his daughters to the opening — and we’ll hold him to it!

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