Warsaw Jewish Museum Newsletter

Newsletter, June 2001


Attached you receive the translation of plain text of our last Biuletyn, as the English language "Newsletter".

Newsletter - June 2001 reflects part of our activities in the last months. It does not contain a general information on the project, only a current update.

Please, kindly contact me to receive more detailed and completed information on the project's history and program or look for them at our home page: www.jewishmuseum.org.pl


Jerzy Halbersztadt

project director

Newsletter - June 2001

Support from John Paul II

"It is the Holy Father's wish that by looking for the objective truth about Polish-Jewish relations in the past, the future museum will be able to show and remind people about the positive cooperation between Poles and Jews for their common good. In this spirit, His Holiness is asking in prayer for the necessary strength and God?s Blessings for the initiators of the idea of the Museum, and its creators."

John Paul II reacted with good wishes and prayer to the news that a Museum of the History of Polish Jews is being created in Warsaw. The Vatican's Secretary of State sent them to us in a letter of May 29, 2001. The letter also contains the opinion that the creation of the museum as a memorial and an educational center for future generations deserves special attention, as it will be a memorial site for the fates of nations connected to each other by history. The letter expresses the hope that "in accord with the convictions of the initiators of this work in progress, the popularization of knowledge about Polish-Jewish relations, as difficult and painful as this process may be, will contribute to the elimination of stereotypes, antipathy and mutual grudges."

This support from John Paul II is very important, since the present Pope has done more for the understanding between different nations and faiths than any one of his predecessors or authorities within the Catholic Church. From the first moment of his pontificate, he has been preaching for Jewish-Christian dialog, condemning anti-Semitism, and has helped Jews and Poles to understand each other. In 1981, he made an unprecedented visit to the Roman Synagogue, where he met with the head Rabbi of Rome, Prof. Emilio Toaff. The crowning event of the Church?s change in attitude towards Jews, which was initiated by the Pope from Poland, was John Paul II?s visit to the Holy Land, which moved the entire world. This uncommon pilgrimage opened the hearts of many people and built an atmosphere in which our vision has become much more real.

On the costs of building the museum:

Talking to Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek

The Prime Minister meets with the Polish Committee to Support the Construction of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

"Once more I would like to express my enormous support for the idea of building this museum, and thank you very much for the work done so far. It is obvious that this museum has to be created. We do not need to convince each other of that, we should rather move on and start the practical work" - this was Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek's suggestion at a meeting of the Polish Committee to Support the Construction of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The meeting took place on April

19, 2001, at the Prime Minister's chancellery. Among the participants were the members of the committee, representatives of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute, several dozen journalists, and numerous guests. Minister Teresa Kaminska, Undersecretary of State Andrzej

Urbański and counselor Barbara Sulek-Kowalski accompanied the Prime Minister. The meeting was held on the day of the 58th anniversary of the Ghetto Uprising in order to remember that Polish Jews, who experienced the Holocaust under German occupation, have a long, almost 1000-year old history. Knowledge and memory of the people and forces that shaped the Polish landscape is our duty towards past and future generations. We want to fulfil this duty by building the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The consciousness of the significance of April 19, 1943 in the history of Poles and Jews clearly influenced the talks at the Prime Minister's chancellery.

After acquainting itself with the work done so far, the Committee to Support the Construction of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews called upon the Prime Minister to support the project with public funds. Prime Minister Buzek expressed his readiness to negotiate the financing of the museum, and asked for a calendar including a structure of the costs and a description of all of the other possible sources of funding. "I suggest that you prepare such a document within the next two to three weeks, so that we will later be able to discuss in a smaller group what we can do to turn this project into a real investment."

The Chairman of the Committee, Marcin Swiecicki, thanked the Prime Minister for the invitation to begin the debate about concrete financial issues and emphasized that such support by the Polish government has enormous significance for other governments that may want to participate in the project. Swiecicki also explained to the Prime Minister and to representatives of the government that the committee, of which he is the chair, is a body that supports the main investor, the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute, and that similar committees exist abroad. They bring together Germans, Swedes, citizens of Great Britain, and many people who trace their origin to Poland. Besides promotional activity, these committees deal in their own countries with the collection of funds for the construction of the museum in Poland.

Mr. Swiecicki also mentioned the funds that we have received from the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation. These funds were used to carry out archaeological work on the site of the future museum, to create the program of exhibit research, and carry out that program in Polish museums, libraries, galleries and archives. Visual records of objects found in this research were registered in our computerized database.

"We are very hopeful with regard to the recently created German foundation 'Memory, Experience and Future,"' which, besides the funds it has collected for the payment of compensations to former slave laborers, also has means for educational purposes," said Swiecicki. Our museum project fulfils their criteria to the highest degree, which is why we have already begun our efforts to receive a contribution. Chances to receive this contribution grow along with the active support by the Polish government.

During the meeting, other things were also discussed. Committee member Andrzej Wajda emphasized that choosing Frank O. Gehry as the architect of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews has enormous significance. "As a person with experience in building the Japanese centre in Kraków, I know that everything begins with the architect. It is best if the architect is outstanding, known all around the world, like Gehry. In my opinion, we should stop speculating whether this or that person will do it cheaper or prettier, or whether we should maybe announce a competition. When Gehry completes even a rough sketch of the building, everything will start moving instantaneously. Other people will follow Gehry."

At the end of the meeting, project director Jerzy Halberstadt gave the Prime Minister color prints from our unique computerized database, which now contains over 40,000 entries about the History of Polish Jews. The Prime Minister received, among other images: a copy of the 19th century seal of the Jewish Congregation in Gliwice; lists of Gliwice Jews who were deported in 1942, uncovered at the National Library in Warsaw; and a notary act of 1946, in which two Jews from Gliwice give their house and land to two Poles in gratitude for saving their lives.

According to the Prime Minister's wishes, several weeks later he received a memorandum containing the construction costs, including a list of all the possible funding sources - public and not public, domestic and foreign. According to these proposals, Polish public funds (together with public funds from Germany and other countries) will cover a part of the expenses to construct the building itself, according to Mr. Gehry's design. The means collected by institutions and private persons will allow for the equipping of the building and the creation of the permanent exhibit. Our requests and plans are the subject of work that is currently being carried out in the Prime Minister's chancellery.

The Committee Grows

The Polish Committee to Support the Construction of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews has gained ten new members who hope to use their authority to help realize the project. We have been joined by people who represent various influential groups, who enjoy respect and social prestige. The committee now includes 41 members. The new members are:

Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz - former Prime Minister and Minister of Justice; Izabella Cywinska - stage and film director, Minister of Culture and Art in Tadeusz Mazowiecki's cabinet; Marek Goliszewski - chairman of the Board of the Business Centre Club; Konstanty Gebert - journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza, the creator and long-time editor-in-chief of the Jewish monthly Midrasz; Aleksander Hall - historian, participant of the round table talks in 1989, delegate to the Parliament, Barbara Labuda - member of KOR (Committee for the Defense of Workers), founder of the Parliamentary Women's Group, Minister in President Aleksander Kwasniewski's chancellery; Lew Rywin - chairman of the Canal Plus Channel and the production house Heritage Films, which has cooperated, among others, with Steven Spielberg during the Oscar-winning production Schindler's List, and with Roman Polanski on his new film The Pianist; Malgorzata Niezabitowska - journalist of the first Tygodnik Solidarnosc (Solidarity Weekly), press spokeswoman for the first democratic government under Tadeusz Mazowiecki, author of the book "The Last Jews of Poland", chairwoman of the Foundation for the book 10 years of independent Poland; Lech Nikolski - delegate to the Parliament and former Minister in Prime Minister Cimoszewicz's Chancellery; Krzysztof Piesiewicz - lawyer, senator, co-author of the scripts for numerous films by Krzysztof Kieslowski, including La double vie de Veronique, The Decalogue, Three Colors, member of the American Film Academy and the Council for Ethics in Media; Wieslaw Walendziak - politician and journalist, former chairman of the Board of Telewizja Polska S.A. and former Minister; Agata Tuszynska - poet and writer, laureate of the Pen Club award, her books include Singer.Landscapes of Memory, published in Poland and the United States and Reports from Israel with Poland in the Background, published in France under the title Schulz's Students.

President Bush: "It's a great Idea."

On June 15, 2001, after laying down flowers before the Ghetto Heroes' Monument in Warsaw, President George W. Bush had a chance to look at the site where the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will be erected.

The President and members of his team talked to representatives of Jewish organizations in Warsaw. The director of the museum project, Jerzy Halbersztadt, informed him about the plans to create a museum facing the monument. This museum will be a modern educational center, that will give Poles and people from other countries a picture of hundreds of years of Jewish history in Poland. President Bush showed interest in this and said that his recent visit at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., made a great impression on him and his wife Laura Bush, and that he is convinced that this is the best way to communicate knowledge to visitors. With a certain amount of surprise and satisfaction, President Bush found out that the experiences gained during the creation of the USHMM in Washington have been used from the beginning in the design work in Warsaw. Following this, looking around at the surrounding buildings, he asked if we have the intention of reconstructing the image of the old Jewish Warsaw, and what it looked like. He listened to Director Halbersztadt's plans about a virtual reconstruction of Nalewki, a central street in the Jewish district, and became interested in the huge photograph of a fragment of this street, displayed on a billboard not far from where he stood. The Israeli Ambassador Szewach Weiss told him about the destruction of the Jewish District in Warsaw by the Germans. President Bush stated that the creation of the museum is a great idea and that he supports it very much.

Those present at the conversation included Laura Bush, secretary of state Colin Powell, ambassador Christopher Hill, as well as Ronald S. Lauder, Jerzy Kichler and Pawel Wildstein.

Krauze from Poland, Markowicz from the USA

Wiktor Markowicz, a mathematician and American businessman, originally from Poland, has granted funds for the creation of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews for the second time. He is one of our most faithful allies in the USA. He works with InterAccess in New York - a Public Relations agency that promotes our project in North America. He connects us with new friends, and saves us in situations of crisis. From the very beginning, he believed in the success of our project and, without waiting for other private entrepreneurs, has begun to support it financially. He is a great fan of the American Architect Frank Gehry and believes that we will be able to collect funds in the USA that will pay for a building designed by him.

Another businessman who has joined the group of contributors is Ryszard Krauze, the chairman of the Board of Managers at Prokom Software S.A., the leading Polish computer company. In the spring of this year, when a delay in the transfer of German funds the project was threatened with suspension of business, the Ryszard Krauze foundation granted us 100 000 zloty.

The Foundation was born one year ago in order to support, among others, educational projects that promote tolerance, hard work and courage, as well as projects that popularize knowledge about the national cultural heritage. The Foundation is the patron of a documentary film about the history of Polish-Jewish relations, which will include the life history of Szewach Weiss, the current Israeli Ambassador in Poland, born before the Second World War in Boryslaw. The film will be aimed at both Polish and Israeli youth. In the future, the Ryszard Krauze Foundation plans to award scholarships and rewards for adolescents and scholars, and also to build athletic facilities.

The fact that Polish business has joined in creating the Museum of the History of Polish Jews has great significance for the project, said President Aleksander Kwasniewski during our meeting in February. These words were addressed above all to the Polish Business Roundtable. As the first of the several dozen members of this elite club, Ryszard Krauze answered the President's call. The general director of the Polish Business Roundtable, Ryszard Bankowicz, ensured us that he has made many efforts to encourage other council members to follow in Ryszard Krauze's footsteps.

Last-Minute News:

On June 28, w received a letter from the Chairman of the Polish Business Roundtable, Mr. Zbigniew Niemczycki, in which he writes that: "The Polish Business Roundtable has decided to support the project materially, and to turn to the members of our association to grant a significant donation to this cause. The fact that the members of the PBC are interested in the Museum Project lets us believe that the steps we have taken in this matter will yield significant effects, and bring the project closer to its goal."

The press reports about the museum:

"Polish heroism and Polish shame" - this is the title under which the Easter edition of Tygodnik Powszechny published the interview with President Aleksander Kwasniewski, conducted by rev. Adam Boniecki and Krzysztof Burnetko. During the conversation that dealt, above all, with the crime in Jedwabne, the President lamented that the Museum of the History of Polish Jews does not exist: "(?) I would complain about something else - for instance, that for the 10 years of the third Republic, we have not built the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. That would be a place where we could show Jedwabne and Radzilów, and at the same time, remind people about the moving deeds of the Righteous Among the Nations, the common culture of assimilated and non-assimilated Jews. How much easier would it be to talk then, even about the most difficult topics. That is a huge neglect and a mistake. "

Tygodnik Powszechny no. 15. April 15, 2001.

"Ambassadors of Good Will" is the title of an article in the national daily Rzeczpospolita, in which Jerzy Sadecki writes about the meeting of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek with the Polish Committee to Support the Construction of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

"(?) The Museum is supposed to be a modern educational center, presenting the 800-year old history of Polish Jews. Thanks to the audiovisual means, Jewish Warsaw, as well as other cities and towns, will come to life. The creators of the museum want to show both the good and the less praiseworthy aspects of the history of Polish-Jewish relations - said the chairman of the committee, Marcin Swiecicki. The Prime Minister added that the Museum could be a good answer to the challenges that result from the post-war years, which were a bad experience in the history of Polish-Jewish relations."

Rzeczpospolita, April 20, 2001.

"Exclusive rights to the victims" - Adam Krzeminski's essay was published in the national weekly Polityka. In it, the author appeals to American contributors to designate some of the money that goes to Holocaust remembrance for the creation of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

"(?) In Poland, we now have a chance that instead of kitsch, we will receive an authentic presentation not only of the Holocaust, but of the entire 700-year old Polish-Jewish History, which so far is not taught very much in our schools. There is also no local memory about Jewish neighbors, the kind that could be displayed in regional museums. These neighbors were killed, watched by people who would later move into their homes. To be honest, every small Polish town should not so much build a monument to the Holocaust, but a local museum that would document the several-hundred year old history of the local Jews. Such a museum would also include the history of their extermination, along with documentation of the behavior of the Polish populace, the opposition movement and collaboration, help for the Jews and passivity. And it would be well if a part of the funds dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust were devoted to this noble cause. It was in Poland, after all, and not in America, that a majority of the victims of the Holocaust lived, and it is in Poland, and not in America, that one should preserve their memory. It would be good if, above all, the Warsaw museum of the History of Polish Jews received a part of the funds that American institutions dispose of, and which is designated for the cultivation of the memory of the Holocaust. This is where the history of Polish Jews should live, because it is an inseparable part of the History of Poland."

Polityka no.20. May 19, 2001 r.

"A Virtual Shtetl" - The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is to un-falsify Polish-Jewish stereotypes and prejudices, writes Marcin Swiecicki in the national weekly Wprost: "What do we know about the nearly 1000-year long Jewish presence in Poland, and what does the world know about it? Holocaust, Kielce, 1968, Jedwabne, somewhere in the background Jankiel gives a concert, inns and apartment buildings. A void. And every void is filled by simplifications and stereotypes. Tourists who make a pilgrimage to the land of their forefathers see only extermination camps and embarrassing graffiti on urban walls.

The Museum of the history of Polish Jews is supposed to help. Its mission is to show the richness of Jewish culture that existed in Poland before the Holocaust, the elimination of mutual prejudices and grudges that hurt both nations and Polish-Jewish understanding.

(?) Everyone supports this project. The largest problems are, as usual, financial. (?) The Polish government's support has so far been symbolic, but the Prime Minister has promised to take the continuous co-financing of this institution under consideration. (?) Whereas foreign contributors, before their reach into their own pockets, usually ask whether the Polish government and Polish business also support this project."

Wprost. May 27, 2001.


Józef Hen Writer, author of numerous novels and stories, including: Nikt nie wola (Nobody?s Calling), Bokser i Smierc (The Boxer and Death), Ja, Michal z Montaigne (I, Michael of Montaigne), Nie boje sie bezsennych nocy (I am not afraid of sleepless nights), Nowolipie, Odejscie Afrodyty (Aphrodite?s exit), Blazen wielki maz (The fool a great man).

I am very excited by this vision. The idea is striking, and certainly correct. We need a Jewish history that is not exclusively a history of the Holocaust. I don?t know if it would be easier to talk about Jedwabne if this museum already existed - but the discussion around Jedwabne tells us how much we need this museum for the future.

Beth Hatefutszoth, the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv, made a huge impression on me. If the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will be similar and will use the newest technologies, it will become a very compelling place in Warsaw. The exhibited artifacts will be displayed against the background of history, which will enlighten the visitors about our country. As long as the museum does not exist, the history of Poland remains unknown to Poles.

Andrzej Kaczynski

Journalist at Rzeczpospolita; His article "Calopalenie," (Burning

Entirely), published in Rzeczpospolita in May 2000, initiated the debate around the crime in Jedwabne.

We lack the second half of our past. We have to recreate it. I need it personally. It will be a great day when this museum comes into existence. I was born shortly after the war, in Krasnik, not far from Lublin, a town whose memory has been cut in half. In my early childhood, my friends and I found a large of amount of tefilin that had been swept out of the synagogue - which was now being turned into a warehouse. We did not know what these objects were for, but they were great material for slings. Only the Priest told us that these objects are holy, and that they have to be gathered somewhere and respected. I began to understand then that my city is handicapped and that half of its inhabitants have disappeared, and my world is impoverished. I hope that in this museum I will find images of that world that does not exist.

Recently, we made a painful discovery: the historical consciousnesses of Poles and of Jews who originate from Poland run along two separate tracks, between which there are very few bridges. For almost every small town in Poland that Jews emigrated from, there exist Memory Books, in Israel or the United States. There are probably several hundred of these, while only a handful is available in Poland. Nobody has seen the need to acquaint the Polish co-inheritors of this common history with these books. Memories of Poles do not take up much room in these books, but even the photographs would have enormous significance for us. I am waiting for this museum.

Jacek Zakowski

Journalist at Gazeta Wyborcza, author of the books PRL dla poczatkujacych (The Polish People's Republic for Beginners, with Jacek Kuron), Co dalej, panie Mrozek? (Where do we go from here, Mr. Mrozek?), Miedzy Panem a Plebanem (Between the Lord and the Plebes), among others. Laureate of the "Wiktor" award in 1997 for the most outstanding television personality. "Journalist of the Year 1997".

I think that the Museum could play a huge part in sorting out and popularizing knowledge about the history of Polish Jews, and in some way also of the history of Polish-Jewish relations, which we need so urgently now that the discussion around the crime in Jedwabne has exploded. I am convinced that the majority of impasses and knots of this painful debate results from a lack of knowledge. We were not - and we are still not - prepared, which causes the current discussion to take place on a surprisingly primitive level.

There are few disciplines in Poland in which ignorance has such a rich tradition as in this one. There were always more prejudices and stereotypes here than knowledge. In pre-war times, the Polish and Jewish cultures lived beside each other more than with each other. Then came the Holocaust - an unprecedented experience, from which Jewish society in Poland never recovered. A number of Jews survived, but their world did not exist here anymore. After the war, Poles never had the chance to fill that void. There was no possibility to conduct a free debate. Basically, only formal remembrance or the cultivation of private memory was possible. The government only allowed for the publication of a few books and articles, and when these spawned a discussion, it could never be carried through to its end.

My generation began to discover the presence of Jewish culture towards the end of the 1970s. Before that, we did not know it. We knew that anti-Semitism existed - this we knew from 1968 - but we did not have full consciousness of the presence of Jewish culture in the History of Poland. The first popular publications on this topic appeared in the late seventies and early eighties. Photo albums, the first translations of I.B. Singer's books, Stryjkowski, Fiddler on the Roof, Austeria - that was a new universe for us. And it is still the "Universe" - space that is only opening up slowly before us. We still have only placed one foot on the moon.

I think that the Museum of the History of Polish Jews could open up this universe for us, that it would give us basic and indispensable knowledge. So I am very happy that this possibility is finally opening up.

Malgorzata Niezabitowska

Journalist, Politician, Lawyer, Chairwoman of the Foundation for the 10th year Anniversary Book of Independent Poland.

I see the creation of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews as one of the most important undertakings of the 3rd Republic. The role that it could play in the future cannot be overestimated. The histories of Poles and Jews were tightly interwoven for almost one thousand years, but in the consciousness of both nations, our common history is reduced to the tragic events only - the Holocaust, the Kielce pogrom, March '68. What is worse, both populations have their own, frequently radically different versions of these events, based on prejudices and stereotypes. Since we lack authoritative knowledge, this causes numerous misunderstandings, grudges and accusations. Above all, it impoverishes both Poles and Jews, who are thus deprived of an essential part of their histories.

For centuries, Poland was a fatherland for numerous Jews, it was the world's largest accumulation of this community. They were disinherited, persecuted and murdered in other places - here they found a safe haven. This does not mean that Poland was a Jewish paradise, that there were no tensions, animosities and persecutions here. Compared to other countries, however, Poland was - as Jews themselves described it - a friendly place, land on which they could rest. This bore fruit, in a great civilizational and spiritual flowering. This is where Hasidism was born, where giants of literature grew up and wrote, where great thinkers, reformers, academics and politicians were active. During the 2nd Republic, our country was the center of Jewish culture, even though the Polish community of three and a half million was smaller than the American one.

This colorful and varied world was completely destroyed by the Holocaust - but that does not mean that it should also disappear from the memory of nations. On the contrary - such an empty, black void in collective consciousness would be a victory for Nazism, "the final solution" carried out to perfection. WE cannot let this happen. I believe that a museum will come into existence that will not only return this lost world to our memories, but that will also be an important step on the path of understanding between Poles and Jews, who should mutually strive to find this understanding.


Courtesy of SIEC, MICHAEL SZPORER 202-547-7114