05 July 2013

Remembering the Ghetto Uprising

The commemorations of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April and May this year represented a major, multifaceted memory event for Poland. The commemorations were far more than the repetition of rituals according to a set tradition. Warsaw has, of course, commemorated the uprising many times, in many different forms, but this year’s events, in their scale and diversity, and in the way that they have contributed to a reshaping of Polish-Jewish memory relations, eclipse recent commemorations.

President Komorowski at the commemorations. 
The programme of events was rich, ranging from official state events to performance art, gala concerts and bicycle rides. The Presidents of Poland and Israel, Bronisław Komorowski and Shimon Perez, and the mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, attended, as did delegates from countries and cities across Europe and around the world. The world’s media was present, with the events receiving generous coverage in Israel and the US in particular.

While Poland has been making efforts for many years to come to terms with the loss of its Jewish minority as a result of the Holocaust, this year’s events in Warsaw marked a significant moment. The opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, one of the most significant museum projects in Europe in recent years, and a result of collaboration led by Poland but involving Germany, Israel, the US and others, makes a powerful statement about how Poland sees its past and the role that Jews played in it. While attitudes are, of course, diverse, that past is now accepted and displayed in the centre of the country’s capital, in what is (or will be when it is finally completed) probably the country’s most impressive museum.