Nearly a decade after it was first proposed, Poland’s Museum of the Second World War, billed as the most comprehensive public exhibition in Europe about the greatest cataclysm of the 20th century, opened on March 23. New York Times reports.
Among those in attendance were former prisoners of German Nazi concentration camps and Soviet labor camps. The museum, in the seaside city of Gdansk, has attracted some 14,000 visitors in just its first two weeks. But Poland’s president, prime minister and culture minister — who might normally be expected to attend such a high-profile event — were absent from the opening.
The museum has become an ideological and political flash point, and its director may be out of a job.
A Polish court on Wednesday cleared the way for the right-wing government in Poland, which took power in 2015, to seize control of the institution and merge it with a smaller, not-yet-built institution that would focus more narrowly on the German Nazi invasion of 1939. The merger would likely result in the dismissal of the museum’s director, the historian Pawel Machcewicz.
The controversy has been playing out for months, but the decision on Wednesday, by the country’s Supreme Administrative Court, is the strongest signal yet that the government will have its way.
The culture ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that “the merger will take place immediately.”
Under Mr. Machcewicz’s direction, the museum’s permanent exhibition, occupying three floors, takes an expansive and international view of the conflict, focusing on the wartime experiences of civilians in Poland and Eastern Europe, which suffered from both Nazi and Soviet repression. Genocide, particularly the Nazi-led mass killings of Jews, is a major theme.
Poland’s right-wing government, however, argues that the new museum does not give enough attention to the Polish perspective. The culture minister, Piotr Glinski, wants to subsume the museum within a planned institution devoted to the Battle of Westerplatte, the first battle of the war in September 1939, when Polish forces fended off the Nazis before surrendering. That institution would focus on the Polish narrative of sacrifice and suffering, and take what skeptics see as a more nationalistic perspective.
Mr. Glinski said in an interview in November that the merger would increase the potential of both institutions.
Mr. Machcewicz has been a target of criticism by Poland’s government. He was picked for the job by Donald Tusk, the prime minister from 2007 to 2014, whose centrist party is now part of the political opposition. (Poland recently tried, without success, to block Mr. Tusk from a second term as president of the European Council, one of the governing bodies of the European Union.)
Mr. Machcewicz denounced the court’s ruling. “The new cultural institution will keep the old name but it will be different,” he said on Wednesday.
He said that he was unsure what the ministry would do about the permanent exhibition, which has already been met with enthusiastic reviews from international museum experts, journalists and historians.
Still, Mr. Machcewicz expressed hope that Mr. Glinski would keep the exhibition in its current shape. “Let the tourists from all around the world judge the exhibition first,” he said.
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