Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
Like the recently covered Warsaw Rising Museum, the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews (also known as Polin) is definitely worth a visit.
The impressive building of Polin is on our daily commute route and had quickly found its way to our ‘must see’ shortlist. We peeked inside the building half a year ago, when the main exhibition wasn’t finished yet, but with the recent grand opening in October last year, with a record-breaking 15,000 visitors in the first three days, an official visit was finally possible.
Poland was once home of the largest Jewish community of the world, but the holocaust had a devastating impact on the lives of many Jews. Polin aims to honor those who died, by remembering how they lived and showing the rich civilization they created in the past thousand years.
The main attraction to this museum starts with the beautiful architecture of the building, which is facing the monument of the (Jewish) ghetto heroes. The design is by Finnish architects and was chosen out of a competition of 250 submissions. Construction started in 2009, at the heart of the Warsaw ghetto and Warsaw’s prewar Jewish neighborhood. Make sure to watch this video about the building.
Polin is interesting because it teaches its visitors about the history of the Jews in Poland, from the early medieval times straight up to the present, coincidentally covering key aspects of Polish history.
As a visitor, you are guided through several areas, each covering a specific period in history, starting with the old Jewish trading routes around the world, showing how Jews ended up in Poland, with the first settlements of Jewish societies, and the role they played in the development of the country.
Interesting to see is that Polish Jews have traditionally been traders, bankers and factory owners as well as workers, playing a significant role in local economies. At the same time though, throughout history, the Jews have been discriminated and scapegoated by the societies in which they thrived.
The museum covers the second world war to a great extent, starting with the western and eastern invasion of Poland by the Germans and the Russians, the Katyn massacre, and of course the great tragedy of the Jewish people in Poland. The museum provides some very interesting coverage of the concentration camps and the lives of (Jewish) people during the war.
What we found very interesting as well was the period of the 60’s, when the great emigration wave of Jewish people took place because of the unbearable conditions in the communistic society at the time, as well as the Solidarność and the fall of communism, both important topics in recent Polish history.
What the museum does very well is to provide a lot of information in a very accessible and interactive way, making use of touch screen displays and creative animated story telling.
What we found though is that the amount of information can be a bit overwhelming, making it difficult to get an overview of all the events described and to place them in the right context of Polish history. It wouldn’t hurt to educate yourself a bit in advance, by reading for instance some pages in your guide book, so you can appreciate the significance of some of the periods and events on display.
What might help as well is to take an audio tour – which we unfortunately did not do.
It took us about three hours to cover the entire museum in a decent pace. To us, this is about the maximum attention span we can produce in a museum, and next time we would rather spend a bit more time on the more recent time periods, and a little less on the medieval era. A tip perhaps for anyone visiting the museum soon.
A big recommendation
The Museum of the History of the Polish Jews is definitely a big recommendation. Not only does it provide an important insight into the significant history of the Jews, it captures the history of the Poles in general as well. If you have the chance to pay a visit, make sure to buy your tickets online in advance, and consider to attend the temporary exhibition as well.
Polin – Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
Ul. Mordechaja Anielewicza 6, 00-157 Warszawa
Open: Mon,Thu, Fri 10.00-18.00, Wed, Sat, Sun 10.00-20.00
Tickets: online, 25 PLN (core exhibition only, free on Thursdays)