WARSAW, Poland – The Warsaw Ghetto Museum should be an ambitious state-of-the art facility — "the major Holocaust museum in Poland" — when it opens in 2023, according to its newly appointed chief historian.
The Polish government announced plans in March to create a museum dedicated to the Jews who were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto and then tortured and murdered by German forces during their World War II-era occupation of Poland.
But Daniel Blatman, a Holocaust historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, described a mission for the museum that is much broader and more ambitious.
"What I would like to achieve is a wide perspective of Jewish life and death during the Nazi occupation through the perspective of the history of the Warsaw Ghetto," Blatman said, describing plans to address the experiences of Jews elsewhere in Poland, including in the many other ghettos created by the occupying Germans.
"I want this to be the major Holocaust museum in Poland," Blatman said.
He noted that while Poland has many authentic World War II memorial sites, like Auschwitz and other former Nazi death camps, and a major museum in Warsaw dedicated to the 1,000-year presence of Jews in Polish lands, it has no major museum dedicated only to the Holocaust.
Polish Jews numbered about 3.3 million on the eve of the Holocaust, and most were murdered. While much can be learned at Auschwitz, with exhibitions housed in old barracks and the remains of structures where people were gassed and burned, that death camp was used mainly to kill Jews transported from elsewhere in Europe.
Poland's Jews — who made up 10 percent of Poland's population — were mostly killed in other death camps, including Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, Blatman said.
One guiding principle of the new museum will be to portray the fate of Poland's Jews as part of both Jewish history and Polish history.
Another key aim will be to portray the experiences of religious Jews under Nazi occupation.
The 65-year-old's own family history was shaped by the Holocaust.
His father was a Polish-born Zionist who at 17 left to settle in Israel in 1936 — three years before Adolf Hitler's invasion of Poland that unleashed the war.
His father returned to Warsaw for a visit in 1938, which turned out to be the last time he saw his parents, who probably died in the ghetto. Nine brothers and a sister of his father's perished at the Treblinka death camp.
The museum is to be housed in a former children's hospital established by Jewish philanthropists in the late 19th century and which during World War II was enclosed within the ghetto's walls. Extensive renovations are needed. Museum director Albert Stankowski and other officials are considering adding extensions to the building or digging below ground level to create more floor space.
The museum is scheduled to open in 2023 on the 80th anniversary of the uprising by Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.