Places of remembrance, museums, live longer than many generations. This is their great value, because we, people, pass away. The last generation that survived the Holocaust is departing and it is our last chance to hear their testimony. However, the history of the Jewish Nation shall be introduced to next generations. Such is the mission of existing and newly appearing museums.
The history of the Jewish Nation has a significant place in the history of Poland. Hundreds of years of coexistence of the Polish and Jewish Nation were interrupted by the Second World War and communist times. We shall always remember those dark moments of history, yet not limit our perspective only to the Holocaust. The community of Polish Jews has a centuries-old tradition. The 18th century Statute of Kalisz granted Jews freedom of religion and social autonomy, providing the foundations for their mass settlement. Thanks to religious toleration, Polish lands have received, over the years, Jews persecuted in other parts of Europe. On the eve of the Second World War there were nearly 3.4 million Jews living in Poland, accounting for nearly 10% of the population of our country. The Jewish diaspora in Poland was the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world (after the USA). Those who survived the Holocaust and returned to Poland encountered ruins. At the same time, the social fabric of Poland had been destroyed and the image of the multicultural country before the war was changed completely.
We cannot give in to the mirages of globalization and times of pandemic, suggesting that everything can be transported into the virtual world and written down in history books. We must have a comprehensive approach and be prepared to sacrifice a lot in order to preserve the memory and to carry on with historical research. It requires both strategy and courage.
We do not stop our efforts to maintain the existing places of Holocaust remembrance in our country. Those museums, located on the sites of the crimes of the Holocaust, are particularly important to fight the denial of the Holocaust and other acts of distortion of historic truth, for those are the places where the tangible evidence of the Holocaust crime can be found. It is important to remember that IHRA non-legally binding working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion points out as one of the examples of this problem the “attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups”. Unfortunately, Polish diplomats, still to this day, very often face in international media expressions such as “Polish death camps”, which is one of the elements of a growing wave of denial or distortion of the history of the Holocaust of European Jews.
Equally important are the museums created far from the actual Holocaust sites, which educate and promote the knowledge about the Holocaust, in Europe and worldwide. Preserving this memory plays nowadays a fundamental role in preventing contemporary acts of genocide, antisemitism, as well as all kinds of racism and discrimination, while promoting the matters of human rights.
To this day new institutions are being created in Poland, not only dedicated to the remembrance of the Holocaust, but also to the history of Polish Jews. An example of such a place is the museum POLIN, which was inaugurated in 2013. It is a modern, interactive museum, that lies in the heart of Warsaw and offers a journey through 1000 years of common Polish-Jewish history. By demonstrating how generations of Jews have lived over the centuries in Poland and have co-constructed the social fabric, the POLIN museum shows even more powerfully the dimension of the Holocaust crime. For that reason, while nurturing the memory of those who died, we should also show how they lived.
Recently I visited the Holocaust Museum in Porto. I was greatly impressed by the exhibition and, just like the visit to the POLIN museum, it has left a permanent mark on my heart.
The Polish Nobel Prize winner Wisława Szymborska once wrote „Umarłych wieczność dotąd trwa dokąd pamięcią im się płaci” - The departed live eternally for as long as we remember them. Her words perfectly define the meaning of existence and the importance of the creation of new museums, not only in Poland but also all over the world, in order to educate and, first and foremost, to remember.