Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Presentation of the History of World War II in Polish Museums. Posted by Kaleigh Ratliff.

During the few months leading up to my departure date for Poland, all I could think about was visiting museums in Warsaw and Krakow. As I continue to work towards a MA in Museum Studies, I am conscious about observing the content, message, and display techniques in museums that I visit.  I will discuss the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Warsaw Uprising Museum, and the exhibition "Krakow under Nazi Occupation: 1939-1945," which is located at the site of Oskar Schindler’s Factory.

 The Museum of the History of Polish Jews

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw is not completely open to the public, but we were able to tour some of the building and watch a video about the future exhibits. It is clear that careful thought and planning was put into the creation of the mission of the museum and the physical building.
The museum aims to tell the story of Jews in Poland by discussing their rich culture and contributions to Polish society. The architect of the building designed the main lobby to resemble the parting of the Red Sea.

Entrance to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews

The design of the main lobby made me feel trapped. Some of the other people on our tour suggested that it felt like a “wound in history” and a journey from darkness to light. I am impressed that the architect was able to make me think in such a critical way and make me feel connected to the story of the Jews in Poland simply with the shape of the lobby.

The architect set the tone and feeling of the museum by addressing the complex past of the Jews in Poland. The front entrance of the building faces the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Memorial, which reminds us of the brutal experiences of Jews during the German occupation in World War II.

Looking out on the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Memorial

In contrast, the back side of the building faces a large field which is open to the public for leisurely purposes.
Looking out on an open field
The building addresses darkness and death, while also remembering to reflect on light and life. I hope that I will be able to return to the museum when it is completed. It is important to discuss and learn about difficult topics in history, but it is also crucial to realize that history is made by people who had lives, families, and careers. This museum appears to tackle this balance well. 

The Warsaw Uprising Museum

The Warsaw Uprising Museum was my favorite museum. During my first few minutes in the museum I was bombarded with emotions and thoughts. The words “intense,” "overwhelming,” “moving,” and “real” came to mind as I took in the design and display of the content.
This museum does an excellent job of recreating the atmosphere of the Warsaw Uprising of August-October 1944. Dark and blunt colors were used to create intensity. Cobblestone, wooden, and uneven brick floors mimic the actual look of the streets at that time.

Inside the Warsaw Uprising Museum

There were smells that made me feel like a part of the history, and the use of noises -- such as planes, bombs, music, and voices -- brought the events back to life.

Model plane producing sound effects of dropping bombs
Because the museum discusses an extremely specific event, I was pleased to notice that all labels and exhibit text panels are similar. This creates a sense of continuity that gives the museum an impressive flow. Gruesome materials are hidden so that visitors have the opportunity to choose if they want to view them.

One section of the museum is made to resemble the sewers that the fighters stayed in during the Uprising. The floor is uneven, the sound of running water is present, and the tunnel is dark and damp.

Inside the sewers

View from the sewers of a plane overhead

This museum is respectful and effective in conveying the feelings and events of the Uprising. It is also very engaging; I left feeling overwhelmed, but I believe that the museum curators intend to make visitors feel that way. It is impressive to say the least!

Schindler’s Factory

Schindler’s Factory is extremely similar to the Warsaw Uprising Museum in terms of successfully portraying the look and feel of the time period.

Marker outside of Schindler's Factory

The museum focuses on the story of Oskar Schindler, a German who saved the lives of Jewish workers at his factory. The museum places this episode within the overall story of the German occupation in Krakow.
Nazi flags on exhibit inside the museum at Schindler's Factory

 The Nazi occupation of Krakow is introduced in innovative and effective ways.

Flooring at the museum at Schindler's Factory

Overall, this museum utilized noises, lighting, and reproductions of buildings, trains, and streets to bring alive the history of the German occupation of Krakow during World War II.

Posted by Kaleigh Ratliff

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