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How A Museum Can Lift Our Spirits And Share Common History Through Art-The Museum Of The History Of Polish Jews

The Rickie Report shares our visit to the newly opened Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, through the eyes of artist and art patrons. We went to recapture part of our heritage, before WWII, and to support the educational efforts to teach acceptance and tolerance of “the other”.  This article will focus on two main features: the role of architecture of this edifice and the highlight of the Core Exhibit itself.  While we publish on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we celebrate this visit because it is a museum of life, rich in culture, ready to be shared.

 

 

Welcome to the Museum!

 

 

 

Outside the Museum Plaza

Outside the Museum Plaza

 

The Museum of The History of the Polish Jews

 

 

The architecture of every building tells a story.  What can we learn as we visit this museum?   The Museum is situated on the ruins of a prewar Jewish neighborhood, where the Germans established the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII.  It faces the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, commemorating how Jews died.  The Museum memorializes how they lived among their Polish neighbors.

 

Museum, Outside View, Left of the Entrance

Museum, Outside View, Left of the Entrance

 

From the outside, we can see the overriding chasm coming together with an inner bridge, the undulating walls and massive panes of glass.  Like art itself, the interpretations are left to the viewer.  We overhear other guests, ” Is it the splitting of the Red Sea?”  ” Is it breaking with the past and moving toward the future?”  “Is it the chasm caused by WWII, when 90% of Polish Jews perished?”  What does it mean?  There is one, clear glass corner of the building on the first floor, where we can see colorful chairs. The bright colors hint at what we will find inside.

 

 

Etched Glass Columns

Etched Glass Columns Of the Museum Facade

 

 

Before we even enter, we notice the Latin letters “Polin” and their Hebrew counterparts, silk screened on the vertical glass and copper columns.  The word, “Polin” in Hebrew means “Rest Here”.  The Museum serves as a common meeting place for a diverse public, an opportunity to learn, discuss, and grow continued tolerance.

 

 

 

Walking Up the Ramp into The Museum

Walking Up the Ramp into The Museum (Courtesy of Museum of History of Polish Jews)

 

As we enter, we walk up the ramp toward the naturally lit interior.  The  light that fills this space is magical, as shadows dance around the smoothed, rolling walls. We are met by a Museum Intern, Iwona Oleszczuk and walk into the space.

 

Museum Interior Walls

Museum Interior Walls

 

Chief Architect, Rainer Mahlamäki says, “This place called for light; a natural radiance that would illuminate the surroundings”. The building, a postmodern structure in glass, copper, and concrete, was designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamäki and Ilmari Lahdelma. A plaque tells us that “Since the museum presents the whole history of Jews in Poland, not only the period under German occupation, the designer wanted to avoid similarities to existing Holocaust museums which had austere concrete structures. The architects kept the museum in the colors of sand, giving it a more approachable feeling.  They won the 2008 International Architecture Award in recognition of their bold and innovative design”.

 

Rear View of Museum

Rear View of Museum (Courtesy of Museum of History of Polish Jews)

 

 

 

Children twirl to their own tunes and adults speak in soft voices. Outside, at the back of the museum through an all glass wall, we can see a large grass lawn, with people sitting and enjoying the sunshine.  From this vantage point, we can also see the top of the wooden synagogue, plain and bear wood planks meeting at the roof top.  We cannot see into the Core Exhibit, but it beckons.  This is like peeling an onion, layer by layer. We look at some explanatory signage and are anxious to see where the next step will take us.

 

 

 

Roof Beams from the Core Exhibit synagogue below

Roof Beams from the Core Exhibit Synagogue below

 

Visitors are brought into the time and place  of the story itself.  The exquisite painted ceiling and timber framed roof of the 17th century wooden Gwozdziec Synagogue is the highlight of this visit. Over 400 volunteers from all over the world recreated it over a period of 10 years at 85% scale.  They used old drawings by Alois Breir to paint the interior.  To construct and assemble the wood beams, they recreated the same tools used to build the original structure.  

 

Welcome to the Core

 

We are greeted by Curator, Eva Malkowska-Bienick, who brings us down to the Core Exhibit.  At the time, we are the only visitors because the Museum had not officially opened yet.  Walking off the elevator into the basement level of the museum, I was unprepared. We stepped into a replica of the Gwozdziec Synagogue.  I have never seen such bright colors on a synagogue ceiling, or any ceiling. I had to catch my breath!  There are zodiac symbols, depictions of animals (real and mystical) , quotations form Hebrew liturgy and images recalling the Jewish calendar. Each had been painstakingly painted on the ceiling and upper walls.  

 

 

 

Close-Up of Gwozdziec Synagogue Ceiling

Close-Up of Gwozdziec Synagogue Ceiling (Courtesy of Museum of History of Polish Jews)

 

 

The Core Exhibition is a journey through 1000 years of the history of Polish Jews – from the Middle Ages until today.  Eva explained, “The Core Exhibition is a narrative: visitors will be drawn into a story told by artifacts, paintings, interactive installations, reconstructions and models, video projections, sounds and words. Our focus is on life, therefore at each stage of the journey we strive to remain close to life by letting people speak – Jewish merchants, scholars or artists from a given era, rabbis, housewives, politicians, chroniclers and revolutionaries. We give the floor to those who perished and to those who survived.  We present 1000 years of Polish-Jewish coexistence, speak of cooperation, rivalry and conflicts, autonomy, integration and assimilation. While seeking to confront thorny issues, we also bring attention to bright chapters in our common history”.

 

 

Close-Up of G Synagogue Ceiling

Close-Up of Gwozdziec Synagogue Ceiling (Courtesy of Museum of History of Polish Jews)

 

According to the Museum website, “The Core Exhibition was developed by a team of international scholars and curators under the direction of Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. The design was created by Event Communications, a London-based company, and by Nizio Design International from Warsaw. Thanks to these teams, the Core Exhibition employs reliable methods as well as cutting-edge multimedia solutions”.

 

 

 

Synagogue Bimah (Courtesy of M. Starowieyska D. Golnik Museum of History of Polish Jews)

Synagogue Bimah (Courtesy of M. Starowieyska D. Golnik Museum of History of Polish Jews)

 

 

While many of the Eight Galleries were not ready for visitors,  we were able to interact with some of the technicians who were tweaking the final stages of one interactive module.   We asked about the general public’s reaction to this facility.  One said, ” We have a curiosity of Jews before the Holocaust and this is a place which shows commonality, not just catastrophe.”  This echoes the Musuem’s Vision Statement, “To make the Museum of the History of Polish Jews an important and innovative center of research, education and culture – a platform for social change, offering a profound, transformative experience and promoting new standards of narrating history.”

 

Synagogue

Model of Gwozdziec Synagogue

 

An explanatory sign tells us, “This model of the wooden synagogue that once stood in Gwozdziec was created in workshops organized by Handshouse Studio for the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.  The model is based on the research of Kärol Maszoswki, Alois Breier, Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, and Thomas Hubka.  Rick and Laura Brown, directors of Handshouse Studios donated this model to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews”.

 

The Rickie Report thanks our Museum guides and the Museum website for technical information used in this article.

 

To learn more about the Museum:

 

http://www.polin.pl/en

 

 

 

For coverage of your events, to place an advertisement, or speak to Rickie about appearing in The Rickie Report, contact:

Rickie Leiter, Publisher

The Rickie Report

P.O.Box 33423

Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33420

Rickie@therickiereport.com

561-537-0291

 

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