Polish Government Urged to End Standoff Over Jewish Museum Director

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People walk through a wooden 17th-century synagogue once located in Gwozdziec at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jew in Warsaw, Poland in 2014.
People walk through a wooden 17th-century synagogue once located in Gwozdziec at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jew in Warsaw, Poland in 2014.Credit: Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press/file)

Two co-founders of a prominent Jewish history museum in Warsaw urged their third partner — the Polish government — to comply with an agreement to reappoint the museum’s former director, arguing Thursday that a failure to do so threatens the museum and is damaging to Polish-Jewish relations.

A standoff over the leadership of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews has dragged on since May, when former director Dariusz Stola won a competition to serve a second five-year term at the museum’s helm.

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Poland’s culture minister so far has refused to put Stola in the post, accusing him of being politically biased against the country’s right-wing government.

On Thursday, the city of Warsaw and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland demanded government action on Stola’s reappointment.

“We can no longer accept the situation in which one of the most important institutions of culture in Poland remains in a state of limbo,” Warsaw’s mayor and the board chairman of the private Jewish historical association said in a joint statement.

A Culture Ministry spokeswoman countered that the situation at the museum “is stable and does not give rise to concern” under the acting director, Zygmunt Stepinski. Museum statutes limit an acting director’s stewardship to a year, Stepinski’s term expires in late February.

In their statement, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski and Piotr Wislicki, chairman of the board of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute, said that as that deadline approaches, the museum’s functioning is threatened and international partners “find this impasse beyond comprehension.”

They said that Culture Minister Piotr Glinski was failing to abide by an agreement to honor whoever won the competition to be chosen as director, saying that the rules and members of the jury were selected and agreed on by all three partners.

But Culture Ministry spokeswoman Anna Pawlowska-Pojawa insisted in a statement carried by the Polish state news agency that the final decision belongs to Glinski. She said the functioning of the museum “is not in any way endangered, and one also cannot speak of a crisis.”

Opened in 2013, the museum presents the nearly 1,000-year history of Jewish life in Poland and the Holocaust. “Polin” is a Hebrew word meaning “rest here,” and reflects the overall story of the Jewish life that flourished in Poland for many centuries until being nearly destroyed by Nazi Germany.

The museum is also a conference and educational center that hosts debates, films and other events. It has been visited by 3.75 million people since it opened in 2013, while nearly 2 million have visited the core exhibition, which opened in 2014.

Some 44% of visitors come from abroad, with the largest group of foreign visitors from Israel, followed by the United States.

Weighing in to support Stola reinstatement, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said: “Because POLIN is recognized worldwide as outstanding, it is not enough for our museum to be stable and good, it must be groundbreaking and fantastic.”

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