Shtetl of honour

The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews will intensify the debate about how museums should think about depicting issues of national identity. From the 1600s until 1939 Poland was the global centre of the Jewish people, home to the world’s largest Jewish population and its greatest nexus of religious, cultural and political activity. Yet for many more recent visitors, such as the thousands of Israeli schoolchildren who tour the sites of Nazi death camps each year, the telling of Polish Jews’ history has been overwhelmed by the story of their extermination. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, whose permanent exhibition opens this month, attempts to restore some balance. “We have a moral obligation to honour the way that [Polish Jews] lived for 1,000 years,” says Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the exhibit’s programme director. “The Holocaust is not the beginning of the story, and it’s not the end.”

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