Disputes delay building a Jewish museum in Warsaw Restitution, revival of history among issues

March 10, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WARSAW, Poland -- In the belief that Poles should understand more about the long history of Jews in their country than the abbreviated account of the Holocaust taught in schools, an effort is under way to build a Jewish museum here.

But both at home and abroad there is ambivalence.

American Jewish organizations, who are expected to be among the major donors, say they will not consider financing the museum until the government pays restitution for Jewish property confiscated by the Nazis and then nationalized by the Communists after World War II.

The museum's backers, who include curators at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, also say they must overcome a view among some Jews that after the killing of 3 million Polish Jews, it is not worth artificially reviving a dead culture.

After several years of lobbying, the museum's Polish organizers said they had won a government pledge of $150,000 last July. But the check has not arrived.

"They promise, they promise but don't deliver," said Grazyna Pawlak, the chief fund-raiser, who until recently was the executive director of the Jewish Historical Institute here.

The executive director of the World Jewish Congress, Ilan Steinberg, said he applauded the idea of raising Poland's consciousness and of the rich Jewish culture that thrived in Poland.

But, he added, efforts to help the museum should be linked to the restitution of Jewish property.

Talks over restitution have dragged on since the collapse of communism. There has been less progress in Poland than in some other countries in Central Europe.

Krzysztof Sliwinski, an official in the Polish Foreign Ministry responsible for liaison with Jewish groups overseas, said he had encountered mixed reactions to the museum. "There are people who believe that all remaining objects and documents related to Jewish history should be transferred to Israel as there is no more Jewish life in Poland," Mr. Sliwinski said.

But Ms. Pawlak and Jewish museum specialists disagree.

"You have young people here today who have no idea who the Jews were or what they represented," said Bill Gross, a collector of Judaica in Israel who is assisting Ms. Pawlak. "So you get a situation where anti-Semitic statements are made by prominent Poles and the young don't know what to make of it. The museum would result in a whole different teaching of Jewish history."

Pub Date: 3/10/96

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