A second visit

My second visit to Polin: Museum of the history of Polish Jews takes place just after the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and both the uprising memorial and the statue of Jan Karski are covered in flowers. ..


I am intrigued by the panels on the outside of the building, and finally investigate, discovering that they are made of glass fins and copper mesh, with the word “Polin” silk screened in Latin and Hebrew. In Hebrew Polin means either Poland, or “rest here”, an allusion to a legend associated with the first settlement of Jews in Poland.


The museum is a bit less daunting this time. I now have an overview of galleries and the way things are organised. I’ve watched a few brief videos of highlights to orient me further. I notice titles for each gallery, something I missed the first  time; I follow the floor arrows; I master the touchscreens – a gentle touch, rather than a determined poke produces results; I have headspace to appreciate the many modes of presentation.


Gallery 3 is called Paradisus Iudaeorum or Jewish Paradise and covers the period from 1569 to 1648, still a time of relative harmony between Jews and other communities. Although the words “Jewish Paradise” are used ironically in lampoons of the period, suggesting that the Jews had it too good, this didn’t diminish Jewish rights to organise their own communities, practise their religion, earn a living and live in peace. In 1573 the Act of the Warsaw Confederation ordered that the “peace be kept between people of different faiths and liturgy”, the most tolerant position in Europe at the time, although Jews and Muslims were already protected by their own privileges. 200 delegates attached their seals to this act.


The highlight of Gallery 3 is a model of Kraków and Kazimierz, little buildings in white a bit like monopoly houses. On the edge of this model are interactive screens that enable you to trace Jewish-Christian relations, key Jewish figures, synagogues: choose a synagogue, choose a person and you get an image and a profile.



A whole wall of this gallery is taken up with a reproduction of a panorama of Gdańsk from a 1575 atlas by Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg called Cities of the world. Gdańsk was the richest town in the Polish-Lithuanian empire and although Jews weren’t allowed to live there they visited as merchants and commercial agents. So many Jews transported grain and timber down the Wisła that Christian captains sometimes suspended unloading on Jewish sabbath and festivals.


The golden age for the Jews in Poland ended with the pogroms during the Cossack uprising, which also involved the massacre of Catholic clergy.
Gallery 4 is called the Jewish Town and covers the period from 1648-1772. As you enter it you get a view-in-motion of the landscape, projected onto a vast wall. Here are two clips from that landscape.


Then there are reproductions of paintings, one of a group of people in the street. Again thanks to the technology of projection, passers-by walk across the scene.


Sometimes a story is embedded in line drawings on the wall.


Glass cases contain Jewish artefacts from Poland – candlesticks, a Hanukkah lamp and a cemetery padlock (which is placed on the skull, pelvis or mouth to seal the dead and death in the grave, especially in times of plague.)


However the centrepiece of this gallery is the painted wooden synagogue, a meticulous reconstruction of a synagogue in Gwoździec, destroyed in World War 1 and recreated for the museum.


About morselsandscraps

A retired Australian who spends a lot of time in Warsaw, and blogs as a way of life.
This entry was posted in museums, photos and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to A second visit

  1. Tish Farrell says:

    The synagogue is a wonder, Meg. And well done you for this second grappling with the museum’s wealth of contents. I like the idea of using the projected 17th-18th century landscapes, an affective way of helping people step into the past.


  2. Sue says:

    Looks a most interesting museum, Meg…but how much can a non-Polish speaker get from it?


    • You just press EN with the appropriate vigour, and the commentary is in English. I have a very impressionistic sense of Polish history and that helped a bit. Second time around I was interested in the presentation as much as the content.


  3. Rosemary Barnard says:

    I would find this museum enlightening as I delve into my own family history and its roots in Eastern Europe. The reconstruction of the synagogue is amazing, though very different in style from the ones I saw in Prague, particularly the very simple 13th century Old-New Synagogue, the oldest functioning synagogue in Europe. Thank you so much for sharing.


    • There was one I visited in Prague that was quite vividly painted: I was surprised. I didn’t visit the one you mention.

      There are photos at



      • Rosemary Barnard says:

        The synagogue you saw is a much more modern one, the Jubilee Synagogue built in the New Town (not Josefov) in 1905-6. My book on Jewish Prague states: “The remarkable decorative paintwork in the Moorish style covers the entire walls of the synagogue.” You captured that paintwork very well in your earlier blog. The Old-New Synagogue in Josefov to which I refer is much more austere. I was told that it was built by the same stonemasons who built the nearby St Agnes Convent, complete with fivepart arched rib vaulting in the ceiling, just like one would find in Gothic churches of that period, but with an additional rib which is symbolic of something Jewish I now can’t remember. I will show you the two books I have on Jewish Prague when we eventually catch up. They were a good investment with beautiful photographs and a wealth of information.


        • Rosemary Barnard says:

          Just been watching a fascinating documentary about a group of strict Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Melbourne, most of whom originated in the Czech Republic and Hungary. Very different to our eyes, with complicated and numerous religious laws. The men were wearing those conical fur hats just as in some of the old pictures in the Warsaw Jewish Museum.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Lucid Gypsy says:

    The candlesticks and Hannukah are just the kind of thing I’d take photos of, and I love the replica of the Synagogue. It’s the document with the seals that I find outstanding though, the humanity of it tugs at me, and the photo is art in itself.
    Fascinating Meg!


    • Do you have any tips for museum photography? They’re always dim places with light that gleams annoyingly. My only really successful photo was of the grave lock. There have been surprisingly few artefacts of this kind, in glass cases.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lucid Gypsy says:

        i was in my local one on Saturday, its very difficult, the only little thing I do sometimes is to have the camera flat against any glass, it reduces some reflection. To be honest I’m hopeless with any indoor photography!


  5. desleyjane says:

    What an interesting trip you’ve taken us on. And some beautiful pieces – the statue covered in flowers and the panels on the building in particular. What a lovely idea to have a word printed in two languages to make a pattern. I used to walk through GoMA in Brisbane to take a few shots for my Changing Seasons posts and this post makes me really miss doing that. I want to go the NGV and see the Andy Warhol exhibit, hopefully it hasn’t closed yet!


  6. restlessjo says:

    I can’t believe how much knowledge you’ve assimilated! Apart from a sense of wonder at the drama and sophistication of museums these days, I tend to glaze over after a while. It looks fabulous- especially the synagogue. I’d definitely stay alert for that. 🙂 The interactives are an enormous help, aren’t they? I’d be lost in a welter of language otherwise.


  7. pommepal says:

    I can see that you have become more comfortable in the museum this time round and your photos and commentary take us with you. Having commentary in English would help too. Museums now are so interactive and fascinating places to explore. You must be so pleased you are there for the year with time to immerse yourself.


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