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Joanna Wawrzyniak

The Jewish Story in the New Generation of Museums in Poland: Revised? Repeated? Concealed?

The history museum boom that started in Poland with the opening of the Warsaw Rising Museum (2004) has already received a lot of attention. The new generation of museums has been characterized by various terms of new museology—such as “narrative,” “experience,” and “emotion”—and has attracted an enormous number of visitors. This paper engages with the ways Jewish subject matter has been presented in several exhibitions since the beginning of the boom. Against a wider background of the positioning of Jewish topics of pre-1989 public memory in Poland and the post-1989 Polish-Jewish debates, it reconstructs three main strategies of dealing with Jewish 20th century history in present-day Polish museums: concealment (e.g., the Emigration Museum in Gdynia), re-use of former narratives (e.g., the Warsaw Rising Museum), and revisions (e.g., POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II). This presentation will show that even though Jewish issues are a significant feature of the recent Polish museum boom, their presence is usually confined to the topics understood as properly “Jewish” and/or related to World War II history.

Joanna Wawrzyniak is head of the social memory laboratory at the Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw. She is interested in oral history, agents of memory, economic nostalgia, and the intellectual history of memory studies. Together with Malgorzata Pakier, Prof. Wawrzyniak has conveyed the Genealogies of Memory in Central and Eastern Europe project at the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity since its beginnings in 2011. Her recent publications in English include Memory and Change in Europe: Eastern Perspectives (co-ed. with M. Pakier, 2016); Veterans, Victims and Memory: The Politics of the Second World War in Communist Poland (2015); and The Enemy on Display: The Second World War in Eastern European Museums (with Z. Bogumil et al. 2015). She has been a visiting fellow at number of institutions including the New School for Social Research, the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, the Imre Kertesz Kolleg Jena, and the Herder Institute in Marburg.