“We are here”

Published 28 October 2014 in:

Photo: Catarina Axelsson/MFA

I have just returned from POLIN – the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

The Core exhibition, which was inaugurated today in the presence of the Polish and Israeli Presidents, is a remarkable experience in itself. It depicts 1000 years of Jewish life, presence, culture in Poland in a way that is difficult to describe. You must be there to understand.

But what affected me more than anything else was the speech at the Inauguration by Marian Turski. He is the Chairman of the Council at the Museum and was an obvious participant among the speakers already for that reason. He is also a Holocaust survivor. And he started his speech by addressing his father and brother who were murdered in Auschwitz: “We are here”.

Three simple words with a richness that go far beyond their everyday meaning.  A clear message but also one that opens up for reflection.

For me it made so much sense: The museum is here. The Jewish heritage is here. Jews are here in Poland.

In his speech Marian Turski quoted the Pianist Władysław Szpilman, who immediately after the war posed the question: “How does one start a life when all that’s behind is just death?”.

The POLIN Museum shows us everything that actually was there before the Holocaust: Jewish life in Poland. The culture, creativity. The individuals. Before death there was a rich life that lasted 1000 years. And life is continuing in contemporary Poland. The exhibition ends with conversations, questions asked, to Polish Jews of today. They are here.

I had the privilege to be included in a group guided by Professor Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, the Program Director of the Core exhibition. I remember meeting her three years ago (and many times afterwards as well), hearing her presenting the visions about what was about to come. I could have listened for hours.

Now I know the result.

I am so happy I was there.