PRAGUE, June 25 (JTA)
- Anyone who thinks the planned $58 million Museum
of the History of Polish Jews doesn't have the
support of general Polish society might have
Eleven leaders from the country's top business
and employer associations joined forces recently
to announce their endorsement of the museum and
to urge members to contribute financially.
"For all Poles, the memory of the Jewish people
is part of the history of the Polish commonwealth
that should - no, must - be remembered, with all
its positives and negatives," Slavomir Majman,
president of the Managers Association in Poland
and a museum supporter, told JTA.
Majman and his colleagues signed a petition calling
on businesspeople to make donations to the museum,
which is set to open in 2009 but still is short
of the millions of dollars it needs to fund high-quality
About 60 businesspeople attended the event, where
association heads said they would circulate pledge
sheets at their annual meetings.
"When I saw these guys standing in front of the
TV cameras, signing this petition without fear,
I thought, 'Is this the Poland I've been reading
about?' " asked Ewa Wierzynska, the museum's deputy
She was referring to media coverage since the League
of Polish Families, a party with a history of anti-Semitism,
joined the governing coalition in April.
In addition, several high-profile incidents in
the past six months, including anti-Jewish comments
on a well-known Catholic radio station, text-message
threats against Jewish students and a physical
attack on the country's chief rabbi, have raised
fears in the Diaspora for Polish-Jewish relations.
It's in this environment that some in Jewish circles
privately have voiced concerns over public support
for the museum project.
Wierzynska has been working behind the scenes with
groups like the Business Center Club, the Polish
Employers Federation and the Association of Entrepreneurs,
who she says have shown a very positive attitude
to the museum.
Museum advocates also view it as a way to show
the world that the Holocaust should not be the
starting and stopping point for those learning
about Polish Jewry.
"The museum will help people all over the world
learn not just how we died in Poland, but how we
lived for nearly 1,000 years," said Stephen Solender,
co-chairman and president of the museum's North
American council. "Visitors will also learn what
contributions Polish Jews made to Poland and the
For example, he said, "Did you know that most of
the early leaders of Israel were Polish-born?"
The city of Warsaw donated $13 million and a plot
of land for the museum next to the Warsaw Ghetto
Uprising Memorial. The state provided $13 million
for the museum building.
The German government donated $6.31 million to
the museum, and international fund-raising brought
in $7 million, mostly from the United States.
Still, more money is needed for an educational
center and installations that will depict Jewish
life over the centuries.
"I was talking with the former mayor of Warsaw,
Marcin Swiecicki, and we both felt the Polish business
world was underrepresented" in terms of donations,
Wierzynska said. "But we were a little bit shy
about approaching Polish business leaders."
With the highest unemployment rate in the European
Union, Poland has a lot of social needs that require
charitable attention, she continued. In addition,
cultural philanthropy is in its infancy in the
former Communist bloc, where private support for
projects the state used to pay for is still a novelty.
But then she and Swiecicki, head of the Polish
support group for the museum, became bolder, approaching
business associations over the past few months
with the attitude: "Why would Polish business leaders
want to support us? The same reason we want the
Polish public to support us, because it's a part
of our Polish heritage, one that has so long been
neglected and forgotten."
The proof will be in the pledges, but Wierzynska
thinks that signing the petition and distributing
it to association members representing hundreds
of thousands of businesses is a great start.
"We would like the Polish business world to contribute
5 percent to 10 percent of the total cost of the
museum," she said.
From a pragmatic point of view, former Foreign
Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski told the assembled
group that the museum was their "passport" to foreigners
and could be a "talking piece" when they present
themselves to clients.
"I remember the time when 30 percent of Warsaw's
population was Jewish," Bartoszewski reportedly
said at the gathering. "The world must know that
this museum is being raised by Polish hands."
Wierzynska, who recently returned to Poland after
a 22-year stint in the United States, said she
took heart from the developments.
"Reading the Polish press, there is constant discussion
of the problem of anti-Semitism, and I wondered,
not as the museum deputy director but as a private
person, 'Are we going backward?'
"But this ceremony was really heartening," she
continued. "I felt we as Polish people had made
progress, and it cannot be stopped."