THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Back to Warsaw for Shabbat
Taking the high road

Jewish Life in Poland

In 2013 a new museum opened in Warsaw. We visited it today. It is a public/private partnership between the Polish, German and Norwegian governments and many corporate and individual donors. It is in a magnificent building standing in what was once the Warsaw Ghetto. It is understated on the outside but has a spectacular interior. The design of the entrance hall suggests, with its curved walls, the Bible story of Moses parting the Red Sea.

There are few artefacts inside, perhaps because few survive. Each one is embellished, illustrated and put in context by multimedia presentations that invite visitors to touch and engage. Even on a day when temperatures in Warsaw reached 38º Celsius, it was very well attended. I briefly wondered if the glossy, corporate presentation might trigger "rich Jew" stereotypes in any anti-semites who visit. But then I reflected that (a) it's unlikely to attract anti-semites and (b) to hell with them!

The exhibition tells the long joint history of Jews and Poles from the beginnings of the Polish state to today. Interestingly the country was first mentioned in writing in Hebrew (written in Arabic script!) by a visiting Jewish merchant. Our educational tour this week has focussed on the horrific end to that story. There's no avoiding the fact that the Holocaust now defines the history of the Jews in Poland in most peoples' minds, but there were many centuries during which Jews lived, raised families and knew both joys and sorrows.

Of course the exhibition addressed the horrors. How could it not? But it at least raised the prospect that the good history might not be entirely erased. In an optimistic film screened in the final room of our visit, Rabbi Michael Schudrich - Chief Rabbi of Poland and someone I knew when I lived here because our daughters were school friends - even suggested that as the small community rebuilds itself, there may be a future for Jews in the country where so many of them lived for so long. Amen to that, optimistic though I fear it may be.

My fellow participants then went to walk around the Old Town. As I visited it almost every week in the eleven years I lived in Poland and given the temperature today I sat that one out. If it's cooler before I leave on Tuesday maybe I will have a chance to stroll around it with my camera. I hope so.

Now I am off to our final dinner, after which the tour (although not my visit) is over.

Graffiti on warm street
Entrance to the exhibition
Quotations from Polish edicts granting privileges to the Jewish population

The updated map of the tour is here and all of my photos are here in as high definition as your screen can support.


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Anath Eichenwald

Thank you Steve for the beautiful pictures and the writing you did!

I don't agree on with the "to hell with the anti-semites", because thinking that way, makes me like them. I want to make a difference. After all these atrocities, that had happened to so many people and also to my family, I try to stick to the humanity inside of me as long as I possibly can. There's no way of giving up hope.
Both of my parents were and are of the most gentle people I ever met. I don't know how they managed to build up there lives, but they did. My father treated every person with the same respect. That is what I saw and learned from him.
In a moment of life or death, I'd for sure would try to protect my own life by extinguishing another one. But sitting here safely, how can I want anyone, whom I even don't know, be going to hell? Wasn't it also this mechanism of not seeing also the human being in the other person, that made it easier to treat the prisoners the way they were treated?

Julie Dolan

I too have enjoyed following this trip digitally. To be fair Steven as a community The Polish Jews have done a fine job of restoring some fascinating buildings in memory of their loved ones. Surely the future has to start with education and tolerance ! Thankyou .

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