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In Praise of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland

  • Hon. Alcee L. Hastings
    US












House of Representative

110th Congress, First Session

Madam Speaker, I rise today to express my support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland. 

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Poland, and I was deeply inspired by my meeting with Jerzy Halbersztadt, the Executive Director of the Museum, and Ewa Wierzynska, the Deputy Director. I commend them for their extraordinary hard work and vision in bringing this Museum to life. A groundbreaking ceremony for the Museum, located in the heart of the pre-World War II Jewish district, will be held on June 26th. I also commend the municipality of Warsaw and the Government of Poland for supporting the establishment of this important institution. 

Jews arrived in the medieval Kingdom of Poland almost one thousand years ago, as they escaped persecution in neighboring countries. Indeed, the Hebrew word for Poland is “Polin,” which some translate as “here you shall rest.” But while everyone in Poland learns about the Holocaust, many people know little about the lives of the Jews before they met their death in concentration camps of Nazi occupiers. This rich history spanning a thousand years must be reclaimed. Indeed, understanding the travesty of the Holocaust requires a full understanding of what was destroyed. 

Accordingly, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will commemorate the three million Polish Jews who died in World War II. It will also celebrate the nearly one thousand years of proud Jewish culture in Poland. 

In addition, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will enhance understanding of Jewish history and cultural roots at a time when anti-Semitism is growing throughout Europe. As a former President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and now as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am heartened by the educational role in this Museum can play in fulfilling the goals that the OSCE participating States have undertaken in the field of combating anti-Semitism. 

This Museum has been some years in coming. In 1996, Yeshayahu Weinberg, a founding director of Tel Aviv’s Diaspora Museum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, created an international team of experts with the goal of establishing a Museum to display and preserve artifacts which showcase the extensive culture of the Jewish people in Poland. In 1997, the Warsaw City Council donated 13,000 square meters of land for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews inside the old Jewish Quarter and opposite the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial. In 2005, an international architectural competition selected a Finnish firm to design the building housing the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The astounding architecture remarkably represents the parting of the Red Sea through ingenious use of mortar, steel and space. 

Approximately 500,000 visitors are anticipated to visit the museum each year. Visitors will take a virtual journey through a world where Jews experienced not only persecution and poverty but perseverance and success. If all goes as planned, the museum will open in 2009 with initial costs funded primarily by the governments of Poland and Germany, and through private donations from Jewish communities around the world. 

Madam Speaker, it is estimated that eighty percent of all Jews and over 9 million Americans trace some of their ancestry to the Polish Jewish community. This museum has the potential to touch the lives of our own citizens in deeply personal ways. I look forward to visiting it myself.

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