Exhibition brings back Jewish pre-war Warsaw
March 28, 2014
‘‘Warszawa, Warsze’, a long-awaited exhibition and the first in a series of dispolays devoted to Jewish Warsaw was opened Thursday at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
It shows how the Jewish community shaped the capital city but also how Warsaw influenced the lives of Jews.The exhibition brings back the now-gone multicultural face of Warsaw: visitors can see films, photographs, works of art and objects from the period. They can sit in a specially arranged café to read pre-war Jewish papers and sing along to the old time favourites heard in Warsaw streets, such as ‘Bal na Gnojnej’ (A Ball in Gnojna Street).
Advertisements and signboards, some of them in two languages (Polish and Yiddish), will remind viewers of how deeply Jews were immersed in the fabric of the city.
On the eve of World War II, Warsaw was inhabited by over 350,000 Jews, who represented nearly forty per cent of its residents.The pre-war telephone directory for Warsaw opened and ended with a Jewish surname. The exhibition entitled Warszawa, Warszeshows the history of that community from mid-18th century till 1939.
The exhibition has three components: a film showing the key historical events which had a decisive impact on the settlement of Jews in Warsaw; presentation of places which were important for Jewish Warsaw, and characteristic of that time and a reconstructed café where visitors can get a flavor of Warsaw’s Jewish past while reading reprints of old papers or listening to songs by Jewish authors.
The exhibition presents multiple mementos of the Jewish past, sometimes quite surprising ones. The almost hundred years of history are reflected in bills from Jewish shops, from Krzysztof Jaszczyński’s collection. The excellent portrait by Józef Pankiewiczen titledA Jew with a basket (from the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw) is a reminiscence of what 19th century Jews from Nalewki or Praga looked like and what kinds of trades they engaged in. In turn, the woman’s silk coif dating back to the 18th century tells a story of the life of rich Jewish townsmen. Just these three examples reflect the diversity of themes and facets of Jewish Warsaw presented at the exhibition. The diversity of Jewish life was shaped by Jews with varied social statuses and highly diverse roots. Some had lived in the capital of Poland ‘since time immemorial' whereas others, coming from Prussia, Lithuania and Belarus, settled in the city as a result of Europe’s changing political landscape.
The exhibition comes with a rich cultural and educational program. The museum invites visitors to listen to lectures on history, architecture and arts, and to take part in multimedia and fashion workshops devoted to Jewish clothing.
The exhibition will be open until June 30, 2014, every day except Tuesdays, from 10:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m. Admission is free.