Visiting Polin part II: Political Correctness

Karolina Golinowska


The visit to Polin (Museum of the History of Polish Jews) was a moment of experiencing truly ambivalent feelings. On the on hand, I am extremely glad that such an institution was established in the Polish context as well. I consider it as the very beginning of performing critical analysis of history and collective memory. On the other hand, I am not sure whose expectations was the museum going to follow and to fulfill. This rather an awkward question appeared in my head as I was wandering through exhibitionary space presenting the history of people who are in contemporary Poland almost non-existent.

I must admit that Polin’s building is absolutely magnificent and may be considered as one of the best architectural sites of contemporary Poland. The experience of visiting the museum may be perceived as a journey through the splendidness of historical time, as intense immersion in bygone world which presents its glorious past and arouses deep sentiments. However, the more the journey lasts, the more tedious it becomes. Huge exhibitionary spaces it provides concentrates partly on the idea of interactive learning. It offers variety of educational games on electronic devices that are appealing mostly to children. Fortunately, there are parts of exhibition that re-establish the idea of reading in museum that may follow the expectations of adult guests as well. All in all, the inner logic of exhibition is rather unclear as it tries to meet the expectations on too many levels.

1 fot.W.Kryński_POLIN_Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Phot. W. Kryński POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Moreover, I was quite surprised that the museum narrates the history of Polish Jews without investigating further the issue of their absence in contemporaneity, apart from making a rather obvious reference to Holocaust. I also realized that the history it presents unveils itself in globally acknowledged manner. The whole concept of exhibition bares close resemblance to the idea of Jewish Museum in Berlin. Surprisingly, the German nation, which has already taken responsibility for mass extermination of European Jews, established an institution referring to the same historical facts and using identical educational games. Obviously, I don’t mean that there is no historical objectivity but since we are speaking of Polish Jews this particular context may add some relevance to the historical narrative. As for today, the difference between German and Polish context is rather clear: Jewish Museum in Berlin was established some time ago (2001) and there are many Jewish communities spread across Germany.

After visiting Polin I got the impression that the history it presents has been unrealistically internationalized and adjusted to the expectations of global audience. Obviously, there were some references to the locality such as industrial power and historical relevance of Lodz (the city with manufactures owned mostly by Jewish families). However, the inner diversification of Judaism, apart from noting the presence of Hasidic Jews in Poland, was barely mentioned. The museum focused on presenting mostly the visual content, remaining music totally beyond its scope. As there were few historical artifacts, exhibitionary content was based mostly on the reconstruction. As this journey through historical time and the world of reconstruction was finally over, I felt overwhelmed with its political correctness. Hopefully, as I was listening to debate about politics on memory, which took place later on in Polin, I realized that there are more voices that demand further discussion and critical examination of Polish society, history and culture. Hopefully- as only the considerable debate may help the museum to become something more.

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