Six decades ago, Nazi occupiers of Poland established a ghetto in the heart of Europe, into which they rounded up an estimated 450,000 Polish Jews. After brutally crushing the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, they liquidated the Warsaw Ghetto, and sent most of the small number of remaining survivors to concentration camps and death camps.
Today, next to the Ghetto Heroes Memorial, work has begun on the Museum of the History of Polish Jews – a Museum to reclaim the culture and contributions of Polish Jewry that the Nazis sought to destroy forever. It is no wonder this Museum has been called by some “a Museum of life.”
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for your personal leadership in convening this hearing on a very important subject. I commend you for recognizing the role of this Museum in reclaiming a shared experience, a common history that was rent apart by the Holocaust. With a large number of Polish-Americans and Jewish Americans of Polish origin, I believe our country is also a stakeholder in the success of this endeavor. Indeed, the question of how one re-claims memory is not unique to Poland, and there may be lessons here for other countries in the OSCE region. This Museum will serve as a living educational center that will contribute to combating anti-Semitism, bigotry, and intolerance in all its forms.
To support this effort, I co-sponsored the Support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews Act when it was first introduced by my colleague Chris Smith in the House in 2006, and I have co-sponsored Senator Menendez’s companion bill, S.2679. I commend Chris for recognizing the important contribution this Museum can make, not just for Poland but for the many Americans who trace their heritage to that country.
The fact is, Polish-Jewish history is complex, and much of the last century has been dominated by deeply painful experiences – and here I am speaking not only of the Holocaust.
But it was not always that way. Poland became home to the world’s largest Jewish community because it was a place of refuge, a safe haven, as Jews were forced out of other parts of Europe by repression and persecution. Polish lands gave birth to great Jewish scientists, artists, writers, and theologians, and enriched the Yiddish-speaking world beyond measure. The thousand years of Polish-Jewish life should be embraced, taught, and shared. Indeed, former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller called this Museum a “restitution of memory.”
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would be remiss if I did not mention an issue I raised with Polish officials in Warsaw in 2003. Poland stands alone, among the post-Communist, Central European countries, in its failure to adopt a comprehensive property restitution or compensation law. That is a separate issue from today’s hearing, but I must say that I regret this issue has not yet been resolved, I hope the next time I visit Poland, that issue will be definitively addressed. And next time, I hope to visit the Museum of Polish Jews.