January 28, 2020
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A Folklorist’s Tale: Stories of Tangible Culture, Intangible Culture & the Politics of Culture


>>Elizabeth Peterson: I’m
Betsy Peterson, the director of the American Folk Life Center
here at the Library of Congress. And on behalf of all the
staff, I want to welcome you to the latest presentation in our ongoing Benjamin
K. Botkin lecture series. Just a word about
the lecture series. The Botkin series allows
us at the Folk Life Center to highlight the latest
scholarship and the work that leading scholars in
the disciplines of folklore, ethnomusicology, oral
history, cultural heritage and other related fields. We are also showcasing
our collections. And these lectures do
some dual work for us. Most importantly they
are an important facet of our acquisitions. All of the lectures in the
Botkin series are taped and will become part of
the permanent collections. But in addition, all of the lectures here
are also video recorded and will later be
posted as webcasts on the library’s website
enabling people around the world to sort of listen in on these
wonderful lectures but also to be available beyond
this moment in time. So with all of that said, if
you do have any cell phones on, please turn them off now. It would be greatly appreciated. And today we have a
very special treat. I have the honor of introducing
an internationally-renowned folklorist Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett who is the distinguished
professor emerita of performance studies
at New York University and also has served
recently as chief curator of the Core Exhibition at the
recently opened POLIN Museum of the History of
Polish Jews in Warsaw. Barbara or BKG as we all know
her has had an extraordinary career as I think most everyone
of us in this room knows. And in the interest of
time, I’ll try and be brief, but it’s a longer than usual
introduction for a good reason. Originally from Toronto, BKG
received her PhD in folklore from Indiana University and
began a multi-faceted career in both academic and
public sector work. In addition to teaching
performance studies at NYU since 1981, she has held faculty
appointments at the University of Texas, Columbia University and the University
of Pennsylvania. Known for her interdisciplinary
contributions, her scholarly variance of
interest range far and wide from Jewish culture to urban
culture, popular mass culture, performance studies and tourism,
to ethnology and museums, folk art and always food. We all love food. She served as the president of
the American Folklore Society from 1991-92 and was
the society’s delegate to the American Council
of Learner Societies. She has served on innumerable
boards, advisory boards, committees, editorial
boards including those for the Getty Institute
for the History of Art and the Humanities, the
Smithsonian Institution, CIC Humanities Center,
the Association for Museum History — I knew
I was going to mess this up. The Schlesinger Library
on the History of Women, the Association for Jewish
Studies, executive council, the American Center
for [inaudible], and the Social Science
Research Council. In 2017 she received an honorary
doctorate from the University of Haifa and was elected to the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences. In 2015 she received the
Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic
of Poland from President Komorowski. And she also received
an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America, the Marshal Star of Award
for her contribution to the social scientific
study of Jewry. And in 2008 she was
honored with the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s lifetime
achievement award as well as the Mlotek Prize for
Yiddish and Yiddish Culture, and was selected
for the [inaudible] which celebrates leadership,
creativity and [inaudible]. I think you get the idea here. Lastly, Barbara’s publications and media contributions have
also ranged far and wide and are equally significant. Just a few highlights of
some of her publications. Destination Culture:
Tourism, Museums and Heritage. The Art of Being
Jewish in Modern Times. Museum Frictions:
Public Culture Interested in Global Transformations. And Image it Before My
Eyes: Photographic History of Jewish Life in
Poland 1864-1939. Recently she also produced a
book They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories
of Jewish Childhood in Poland before the Holocaust. A lovely book which she
coauthored with her father, the artist Mayer Kirshenblatt. I won’t go into the
films and all. In addition to this whole
range of teaching, advising and publishing, Barbara also
has a longstanding interest in museums and exhibitions. She has served and is currently
serving as a consultant and advisor for New
York’s museums, exhibitions and cultural festivals. Among them, the Jewish
Museum in Berlin, the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Smithsonian here in DC. The Yeshiva University
Museum and the Jewish Museum in New York, the Skirball
Museum in Los Angeles, the Jewish Museum in
Indiana, the Jewish Museum and Arts Center in Moscow. In 2006, after years of
consulting for the New Museum of the History of
Polish Jews in Warsaw, she agreed to lead the team
developing the core exhibition, an enormous multimedia
narrative experience dedicated to the 1,000-year history of
the Jewish community in Poland. And it is that project
that the POLIN Museum, that will be the focus
of Barbara’s talk today. So I think I’ve just taken
ten minutes of your time. But please give a warm
welcome to BKG for her talk, A Folklorist’s Tale:
Stories of Tangible Culture, Intangible Culture and
the Positives of Culture. Welcome. [ Applause ]>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Thank you very, very much
for that lovely introduction. I found it intimidating. But really very, very beautiful. And this is an extraordinary
opportunity. I want to begin by thanking
Nancy Gross for the invitation to come and to speak, and
for attention to every detail to really make this
opportunity a very special one and a very memorable one for me. And I take the title of the
talk A Folklorist’s Tale: Stories of Tangible
Culture, Intangible Culture and the Positives of Culture
— I take it very seriously. And so what I’d like to do is
to really answer the question, how is it that the organizers
of this Museum of the History of Polish Jews, how
is it that they hired of all people a folklorist
to lead the development of a permanent exhibition about the 1,000-year
history of Polish Jews? And I pose that to
you as a question because when I was asked
to lead the development of this permanent exhibition, one of our most wonderful
donors looked at me and said, “What’s your field?” And I said, “Well,
you know, folklore, anthropology, ethnography.” “Oh,” he said, “I know what
this exhibition will be. Teepees and feathers.” And I was mortified. I was beyond myself. And it will be Fiddler
on the Roof. It will be Ofstettle and it will
be everything that he hates. So fortunately of course,
it didn’t turn out that way. However, what I want to
do today is to reflect on what someone trained as a
folklorist could possibly bring to a multimedia narrative
exhibition of a 1,000-year history
of Polish Jews, and why when a folklorist comes to such a project it
will look the way it does and very different from if this
exhibition had been created strictly by not only historians but historians trained
at Warsaw University. Because honestly that probably
would have been the option. So this is my starting point. This is POLIN Museum of
the History of Polish Jews. We opened the building in 2013. We had the grand
opening in 2014, and it faces the Monument
to the Ghetto Heroes. So I want to try to
answer the question — well, I’m going to
answer the question from two points of view. One is a personal point of view and the other is a
professional point of view. But from a personal point of
view, I want to start by saying that I am the child
of Polish Jews. That may parents who were
born and raised in Poland, my father — this is his
passport and this was issued to him when he left Poland
to come to Canada in 1934. And he was born in Opatow
in south central Poland. My mother in Brest Letofsk. He came to Canada
when he was 17. She was probably about 14
when she came to Canada. And I was raised in a Jewish
immigrant neighborhood. And you get a little
bit of an idea — I should confess that in the
last few months we’ve been moving from our home
of 44 years. And you can imagine
the accumulation. And the only good news
about all of that was that in excavating 44 years of
accumulation I actually came across old photographs. And this is kind of my
way of signaling growing up in a Jewish immigrant
neighborhood and surrounded by Yiddish speakers and especially right
after the Holocaust. I’m born in 1942 during the war. And I have very vivid
recollections of DP’s, displaced persons, that is
to say Holocaust survivors, arriving and playing with
the kids on the street. So I grew up in a very, if
you will, Polish-Jewish, Yiddish-speaking milieu. So that would be the
second piece of it. The third piece of it is that as
a child I went through a very, very orthodox Jewish
phase as a result of a terrible Jewish
after-school, if I may say. They were all awful. The first was the Farbunshyl. The next was the Darshyshel
and the next was Atelmatoira and they were all really awful. But as a result of my brief
period of strict orthodoxy, when I wasn’t able to go to
movies, tear paper, write, take a bus, anything, there
was one thing I could do — and this was before the
era of helicopter parents. I could walk by myself
at the age of ten to the Royal Ontario Museum which I did every
single Saturday. And it was only the
permanent collection. There was no such
thing as an exhibition and there were no
temporary exhibitions. And that was the beginning
of my great love of museums. But the other moment had to do
with the beginning of my PhD in the folklore department
at Indiana University. Because in the very
first semester, taking a fieldwork course
in the folklore department with Jerry Mince, he
discovered that I knew Yiddish. And he said, “Well, why don’t
you do your fieldwork project on Yiddish folklore?” So I went home and I did. And I began interviewing
my father. And I interviewed
him for over 40 years and I never stopped
interviewing him. And being well-trained
as a folklorist, I recorded those interviews. And moreover, when he retired
and was at sort of loose ends, my mother and my husband
who’s an artist, and I, begged and pleaded
with him for years to paint what he could remember. And he did. And as a result, he
really did the most extraordinary paintings. And so I would say that
was another extremely important moment. 40 years of a conversation with somebody whose
memory was bottomless, who remembered everything
about growing up in Poland in the 1920’s and ’30’s and who
then visualized it in hundreds of paintings and drawings. That was another element. Now while that was happening
at the very, very same time, I was at the YIVO
Institute for Jewish Research and I had the opportunity to
work with Lucian Yaroshefsky, a marvelous man, a survivor of
the Ghetto of Lodz who had a PhD in history from Warsaw
University. And he was a victim of the
March ’68 anti-Semitic campaign in Poland and came to New York
without a word of English. And he was hired by YIVO
to catalog their collection of almost 15,000
photographs of Jewish life in Poland before the Holocaust. And they asked me
to work with him and to develop an exhibition, a
book and then eventually a film. And so as a result, I at
the end of that process — we opened up the Jewish Museum in the ’70’s — I
had an image bank. I had all my father’s memories. I had an image bank
of all of these black and white photographs and I
said to myself, “You know” — and we published a book
and we did the exhibition. I said, “You know, I’ve
got to go to Poland.” And of course before going to
Poland I had all my training and all of my academic
preparation in folklore, in ethnography, in oral
history, in Yiddish studies, in east European Jewish studies. So I was really ready
for the next step. And so this is the kind
of photograph that I knew from the YIVO collection
working with Yaroshefsky that we used this kind of
material in Before My Eyes. So this would be market day
in my father’s hometown. And this is how he remembered
the market in his hometown. And of course this is
market day but of course not as full as the photograph. And this is what it
looks like today. Because of course there
are no market days today in these towns, but
rather they’ve been turned into parks basically. And so when I was invited
to work on this museum and it was an invitation — well, first of all it began
really as a phone call in 2002. Would I come to Warsaw
and review the preparation for the creating of this museum? And I thought to
myself, “This is crazy.” It’s 2002, it’s a
little more than a decade after the fall of communism. It’s hard for me to
imagine how it’s possible. And I went. And I was very impressed
with the plan. They had been developing — and I’ll explain in a
moment the process — a master plan for
the exhibition. And so I went and then when the
museum was founded I was asked to lead the project. So I want to convey to you the
nature of the project but what I as a folklorist feel
I could bring to it that I hope contributed to what
makes it very, very special. And of course I think
of myself rather as an orchestra conductor,
as a midwife working with an extraordinary
team of academics, curators, designers and others. And so this is where this museum
actually has been created. It’s been created on the
ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto which was the pre-war
Jewish neighborhood. And after the Germans suppressed
the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, they leveled the whole area. And you can see in the
background the leveling of 85% of the historical core,
the city of Warsaw, after they suppressed
the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Now when we had the grand
opening which was 2014 — and that’s when we opened
the permanent exhibition — there was this comment
by Arnie Eisen from the Jewish Theological
Seminary. And it was a very
moving comment for me and a very, very meaningful one. “It’s not often that
a museum makes history as well as chronicles it. And rare too when otherwise
cautious observers remark at the opening of a new museum
that it may prove a source of hope and pride that propels
an entire society forward. Both of those things
happened this week in Warsaw with the opening
of POLIN Museum.” Now there are several
things here that were very, very meaningful for me. Otherwise cautious observers
is an understatement. Because in fact there
was great skepticism about this project
for many reasons. American Jews thought it
was a Polish states plan to whitewash the history
and extract tourist dollars. And Poles thought it was going
to be a museum of the history of anti-Semitism and blacken
the good name of Poland. And there were others who thought it was an
unrealistic project that could never be completed. So cautious observers is
really an understatement. But the second is the idea that
the creation of the museum was in and of itself making history
as well as chronicling it. And that it could
actually make a difference to the wider society. And I like to think of
that not only as Poland, but also the wider
society more generally. And that’s something
we maybe can take up a little bit later on. So the museum as you saw from the very first
image faces the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. And this photograph
is from 1948. And what it’s showing you is
the unveiling of the monument on sort of this mound
of the rubble. Because by 1948 it was
the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but it was only a couple
years after the war. And there’s a path
that’s been cut through, but you can see the people have
to climb up the rubble to get to the monument,
and it took decades to actually clear the rubble
and to flatten the area. And in the back you can see
the destroyed city of Warsaw. So the decision as to
where to put the museum — well, first of all,
because almost nothing — there’s almost no material trace
of the vibrant Jewish community of Warsaw, the largest
Jewish community in Europe and for a time the largest
Jewish community in the world. There’s almost nothing
to indicate that such a community
existed except maybe for the Jewish cemetery
in Warsaw. But that means that since 1948
and until the museum opened, perhaps the most iconic marker
was in fact this monument, the Monument to the Ghetto
Heroes showing the fighters on one side and the great
deportation on others, and surrounded by
communist-era apartment blocks in a very sleepy
part of the city. It’s still central city, but these communist-era
apartment blocks are — this really gives you a
feeling of there are no cafes, there’s no lively street life. There’s a plaza, there’s a park. But when the decision
was taken to actually try to create this museum, the city
allocated the land facing the monument which was the perfect
location for this museum. And the museum itself
as an idea arose in ’93, but it wasn’t actually
founded until 2005. And that’s when the
architectural competition was organized and the winner
was a Finnish architect who created a building
that was by the rules of the competition not higher than the communist-era
apartment buildings around it, and had to be able to sit within
this residential neighborhood. And here you can see the
building from the other side of the monument which
is the side that shows the great
deportation of 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto
in the summer of 1942 to the death camp in Treblinka. The museum’s name POLIN comes
from the Hebrew word for Poland so it would be Polin in Hebrew and it would be Poiln
in Yiddish. And this is silkscreened on
the glass, I would say almost like scales on a fish that
line the outside of the wall in Hebrew and in Latin letters. And I’ll explain in a
moment why that name. But this beautiful building of glass is really I
would say an architecture of hope on a site of tragedy. And it just shimmers in
the light and it is open and transparent,
and it’s reflective. And it really I think as architecture communicates
what this museum is all about. And all the drama
is on the inside, using a technique
called shot-crete, shooting actually a mixture of
concrete and quartz crystals from a hose onto
netting over an armature. And it’s created the most
dramatic and marvelous interior. But what that does is it allows
the exterior of the building to stand in a proper
relationship to the monument which was also one of the
rules of the competition. Now at the heart of the
museum and of course the area that I worked on is the
multimedia narrative exhibition. And the minute you
say narrative, you’re talking to a folklorist. It’s all about storytelling. And if there’s anything that
modern museums have learned, that is that they’re not
really an ideal medium for communicating information. But that the single
best way to communicate with a visitor is
through storytelling. And that is through
those small stories that you can create a big story. And it’s through storytelling
that you can make sense, and it’s through storytelling that you can create an
experience that is memorable and is emotional and
is thought-provoking. And so I felt like
I was in my element. I had written my doctoral
dissertation on storytelling in the Toronto Jewish community. I had studied narrative
top to bottom. Semiotics and structuralism
and you name it, and sociolinguistics,
ethnography of communication. Whatever there was to
think about storytelling, whatever tools I
could possibly have, I feel as a folklorist
I got them in spades. And I was able to
bring that feeling, that sense of storytelling
and the power of storytelling to the creating of this museum. And so we enter the museum from the main hall
down a set of stairs. And we come into what I think
of as a theater of history. And that is that this
is a museum that began without an historic building, without an historic
neighborhood, without a collection. But its single greatest
aspect was intangible. Its single greatest
aspect was its story. And they started with the
story, and the challenge was how to communicate that story in a really powerful way using
the medium of an exhibition. And so of course we showed
objects, we used objects. And the single most important
collection of such objects is at the Jewish Historical
Institute in Warsaw. But this collection, like
almost all collections of Jewish material related to
the history of Polish Jews, it’s 19th and 20th century,
it’s largely art and Judaica, photographs and memorabilia. There’s virtually almost nothing
from the medieval period. There’s very little from
the 16th, 17th centuries. You’re lucky if you
can find some Judaica from the 18th century. And so the idea that you could
create a compelling 1,000-year story based on a collection
was out of the question. And so since the story was
primary and since communicating with our visitors was primary,
we had to do something else. So just a quick idea of
the unique circumstances around the creating this museum. So the idea in 1993 was
prompted by the opening of the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum here in Washington. And the thought was if there’s a
Holocaust Museum in Washington, there should be a
Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. And I would say the idea became
a formal project in 1996. And it was initiated
by the Association of the Jewish Historical
Institute of Poland, which is a Jewish NGO
established in 1951 in Poland. And of course the story
being all they had, it was the developing of
the permanent exhibition that the association
dedicated itself to literally from
1996 until 2005. So for over ten years, that’s
all they did was to work on developing the basis for and
then the actual master plan. In 2005 the museum is founded,
there’s the competition. There were over 200 entrants
with about 11 finalists. And among them Daniel
Liebeskind. And the architects like to say that the best prize is second
prize because you get the prize and you don’t have to build it. So I’m not so sure that some
of these famous architects — and they had marvelous
projects, but not for this site. You know, Daniel Liebeskind,
it was an open book with these pages like wings. Can you imagine that with this
communist-era architecture in this residential
neighborhood? Out of the question. So then we opened the building,
we had the grand opening and then in 2016 it was
the first time any museum in Poland had won these awards. The European Museum
of the Year Award, the European Museum
Academy Prize. And no museum in Europe
had ever won both prizes in the same year. Although I have to say that the
European Museum Academy was a little miffed. They said, “Oh my God,
if only we had known that you’d got the other award.” And I thought, “Good
that you didn’t know.” So we got both of those. And then as of now,
since we opened, we’ve had about 3
million visitors which is really very,
very exceptional. I would say only paralleled — and we’re speaking now not
about Holocaust museums but about Jewish
history museums. I would say the only
comparable museum of that scale would be the
Jewish Museum of Berlin. So it’s really quite
exceptional. So coming to this as an
academic, not as someone who worked her entire
career in a museum, and working with an
international team of academics, we developed a set of principles that would guide the
creating of the narrative. And it was very, very
important to us basically that we have a kind of
consistent and coherent approach to the overall historical
narrative and also to the way in which we tell it. This was really important
so that it wasn’t like the designers come in,
you give them the stuff, they come back to you with the
design and it’s kind of a mix of a little bit of this
and a little bit of that. No. So the first was to
declare clearly and strongly that the single most
important period in the history of Polish Jews is 1,000 years. Not the Holocaust, not
the post-war years, not the inter-war years. And of course nobody ever
said the medieval period which is more than 500 years. And our medieval historian
used to always complain. She’d say, “I’ve got more
than half the millennium and nobody’s interested.” But as it turns out, actually
it’s one of the most interesting and most appreciated
of all of the sort of seven historical galleries. The second was that Jews
are an integral part of the history of Poland. That they’re not only in
Poland but also of Poland. And the idea of an integral
history was very important to us. The third is that we would
focus or structure our narrative around what we called a
spectrum of relations. Because there was an assumption that the single most
important relation or the determining relation in
this history was anti-Semitism. And we said no. This is a story of coexistence
and conflict, cooperation and competition, separation and integration,
inclusion, exclusion. And it’s a spectrum. Sometimes one of those
terms is in the foreground and other times another. A fourth principle was that
Jews created a civilization that is categorically Jewish
and distinctly Polish. Excuse me. And that this community became
the largest Jewish community in the world and a center
of the Jewish world. But the 18th century, half the
Jews in the world were living in this territory,
that is the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian
commonwealth which includes today
Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and surrounding areas. And that’s 750,000 Jews. That was half the
Jewish population of the entire world
was living here. And there’s no way that
the population would grow to that extent and that there
would be a continuous Jewish presence across 1,000 years if this was essentially a
history of anti-Semitism. And then the power of telling
the story in the very place where it happened which
might seem obvious, but I cannot tell you how
many people say to me, “Why are you making
this museum in Poland?” [ Laughter ] I say, “Well, where
should we make it?” They say, “You should
make it in Tel Aviv or you should make
it in New York. You should make it
where the Jews are.” I said, “We’re going to
bring the museum to the Jews. No, we’re going to bring Jews
and everybody else to Poland and the power of
telling this story in the very place
of this story.” That is incomparable. There is nothing to replace it. And so like a good folklorist,
we begin the 1,000-year history of Polish Jews with a legend. And it’s the legend of Polin. And we use a very beautiful
retelling of the legend by Agnon, the Nobel Prize-winner
for Hebrew literature. And the legend goes
something like this. Jews in western Europe
were being persecuted. They fled east. They found themselves
in a forest. And then of course there
are versions of variance. And according to one
version, the clouds broke and an angel’s hand pointed and
they heard the words, “Polin.” According to another version,
the birds were chirping “Polin.” In another version,
there were pages of a holy text were
floating down, or they saw Hebrew words
carved on the trees. But when they heard the words “Polin” they though they heard
Hebrew, “Pau leen”, rest here. And so they said, “It
is divinely ordained that we should stay here
until the Messiah comes and we are taken
to the holy land.” And so they say that’s
how Poland got its name. We know that. Maybe the others don’t, but we
know how Poland got its name. And indeed Polin and
Poiln are the Hebrew and Yiddish names of Poland. And so wat we did is to
create this very poetic, very evocative forest inspired by the UNESCO World Heritage
Site in Northeastern Poland which is the marvelous
primordial forest. And we then retold the
legend in this space. And so our visitors
actually begin in a space and a very poetic space, a
space of historical imagination where you have sort of a
sense of how Jews are trying to explain to themselves
how they came to Poland. And that they should explain it in such a positive way is
a very counterintuitive way of beginning this
1,000-year story. Now we come to the
medieval gallery. The moment that we enter
the medieval gallery, we cross a threshold
between legend and history. Now what do we have to work with
from this over 500-year period from 960 to 1507, more or less? There are exactly two kinds
of objects for this period that are directly connected to
Polish Jews, Jews in Poland. Tombstones. This is the earliest Jewish
tombstone from Braclaw. It’s 1203. And Bracteates, one-sided coins that actually have Hebrew
inscriptions on them that were either
minted by Jews or minted under their supervision. That’s it. And of course they’re
not that big. They’re the size of a dime. And a 500-year story
made out of tombstones — of course we can’t bring
all these tombstones into the gallery anyway —
and of little tiny coins? No way? So what did we do? What we did was this. Our greatest asset in this
entire exhibition is intangible. It is the stories that we’re
able to glean from sources like rabbinical correspondence,
travel accounts, chronicles, legal documents,
religious texts. From any one of any number of
texts, and it’s those stories that are our bread and butter. They are our artifacts. They’re intangible, but we
think of them as our artifacts. And so we went to
our medieval sources, to these travel accounts,
to rabbinical correspondence where one rabbi is
writing another rabbi. “I have this dilemma,
give me your advice.” And those letters
were actually compiled so we’ve got access to them. So we got the stories
from there that refer to these Jewish traveling
merchants and what was going on in the wild east in
the medieval period. And then we took
illuminated manuscripts from the Ashkenazi
communities in the Rhineland which is the region from
which Jews came to Poland. And we gave them to two of Poland’s most celebrated
comic book artists. And we said to them,
“Illustrate the stories.” And then we asked two, actually
three church conservators, conservators of Polish churches,
to actually hand-paint the walls with those illustrations. And they are in a style
that changes from century to century to century. And the result — and we also
had a gilder actually gild with real gold the
sections that deal with the what we
call royal relations. And the result is a
hand-painted gallery. So this is a gallery in a multimedia narrative
exhibition — you expect all high-tech
and immersive and whatever. And here you’ve got a
handmade gallery which is like an illuminated manuscript that is life-size
and 360-degrees. And you’re actually inside it. And so here in the presence
of tombstones and coins, we actually have something
very, very startling. And so we’ve organized
it in that way, and of course we provide
interactive opportunities to dig deeper into the story. When we move from
the medieval period to the early modern period, we move to the Polish-Lithuanian
commonwealth, and let me just show
you the map. And this now is the
territory at its largest. It is Ukraine has been
absorbed into Poland in the medieval period
and now Lithuania joins and they form the
Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. And this is a period that both
in I would say Polish history and Jewish history is treated
as something of a golden age. And of course golden
age is a trope. But what’s interesting here is that during this period
there was a lampoon — and in many versions
in variance — which basically criticized
everything about Poland. And among what they criticized
was what they called — they said Poland is a
paradises Judaiorum. It is a Jewish paradise
which was a criticism. In other words, Jews
had it too good. And so we take this
paradises Judaiorum as a kind of ambivalent with
a question mark. But they also say the
nobility yare no good and the clergy are no good
and the foreigners are no good and everybody’s no good,
and everything’s wrong with the commonwealth. And so you can see — you probably can’t
read it from there, but I can maybe read
it from here. It says here, “The
Polish burghers,” let’s see here, oh yes. It’s “Paradise for the
Jews, hell of the peasants, purgatory for the burghers
and it is rule by servants.” And it’s a bit like
the criticism of immigrants, et cetera. But what did we do? We created — and this is a
hallmark of the exhibition — we created a multi-voiced
narrative. Not a single voice, and
everything is in what I call in quotation marks,
the “first person.” Meaning that as much as
possible we drive the narrative from quotations from primary
sources from the period and we try to keep our
visitors inside the moment of the telling of the story. And so here what you have
is you have a quotation from the great rabbi Moses
Isserles who says basically, “Things here aren’t as bad
as they are in Germany, and may it stay that way.” In other words, he had
very low expectations. But this is the early
modern period. This is what religious
toleration looked like. And we have Karahite and we have
a nobleman and we have those that are for and those
that are against. And it’s kind of a
chorus of voices. And the whole exhibition is
organized around that principle of multiple voices,
primary sources all from the period itself and in what we would call
the historical present. Now we wanted to communicate
some very abstract ideas. And in this section of the early
modern period, meaning 16th and 17th centuries, one of the
big ideas is that the center of the Ashkenazi
world has shifted from the Rhineland to Poland. And why? For two reasons. One, because Poland becomes
known, renowned as a center of rabbinical authority,
scholarship, printing. And because there was
a very high degree of Jewish self-government. Those were extremely
abstract ideas, very difficult to communicate in an exhibition. And we decide to do it through
a history of printing — and in fact the earliest
Yiddish printed books and very, very early and important
printed Hebrew books. And to make it as
impactful as possible. It turned out that manual
interactives are far more effective than digital ones. And here what we did was to
create four printing presses. Initially they were intended for
kids, but adults love them too. And so you’ve got — our visitors are printing
title pages, printer’s marks, et cetera, framing
them, taking them home, hanging them on their walls. If you can imagine
all over Poland, you have these Yiddish printed
and Hebrew printed elements which I find absolutely
extraordinary. But of course we also
wanted to open those books up which we do digitally, and to interpret them including
a wonderful Kabbalistic scroll that had never been
shown before. And we break the period
and treatise Asazura, the Khmeltnytsky uprising
of 1648, and that brings us into the second half of
this commonwealth period where we zoom in
on everyday life in what we call the Jewish town. The most characteristic
form of Jewish settlement in this territory were towns because Jews were always
settling in towns and in cities. They weren’t agricultural. They managed agricultural
assets like farms and villages and mills and fisheries
and forests. But they lived in the town and they were the economic
engine of the noble states. And here is a wonderful
opportunity to capture everyday life. Because one of the hallmarks of
this exhibition is its emphasis on ordinary people, everyday
life, social history, cultural history,
not only the elites but also the everyday people. And I think probably the most
dramatic expression of something that folklorists would
appreciate especially is the way we dealt with a completely
lost object. And so let me just
take you through this. Some of you may have
seen Raise the Roof. How many saw Raise the Roof? A few people saw it. It’s now available I
think for streaming, but I really recommend it. It’s a wonderful film and you’ll
understand why in a moment. So we wanted to communicate
in our Jewish town that there were two
centers of gravity. There was the marketplace and
then there was the synagogue. The marketplace was
about economics. It was about Jewish interaction
with their neighbors. Around the marketplace
there would be a tavern, a church, a town hall, homes. And that would be one story. And then there was
the synagogue and all of the Jewish communal
buildings around it, and that was another story. And we always felt that one
of the most unique features, if you will, of Polish Jewish
civilization was the synagogue. It of course shares
architectural forms and it shared building
techniques and iconographic and other techniques
with its surroundings, whether they’re Ukrainian,
Lithuanian, Polish. But the ensemble, the actual
ensemble is a really uniquely I would say distinctly
categorically Jewish, distinctly Polish,
Ukrainian, Lithuanian object. Now there were about 200 of the great wooden
synagogues in this territory. I would say the ones
that are from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries,
there were about 200 of them. And with the outbreak of
the war and during the war, the Germans destroyed
all of them. Not one of them is
still standing. However, during the 1890’s and
especially up to World War I and during the ’20’s and ’30’s,
there was a kind of I would say like an arts and
crafts movement, but it was a preservationist
movement. And there was an interest,
a kind of discovery of the vernacular architecture
and an appreciation of it. And then a concerted
effort to document it. And it so happens that there
was one of these synagogues, the one that once stood
at Gloycnez which is today in Ukraine that is the
single best-documented of all of the wooden synagogues. And it happened to be
destroyed in World War I when the Russian front
moved through Gloycnez. But the documentation began
in the 1890’s and it continued with — the material
is incredible. Not only photographs, but
also architectural drawings, cross-sections, cutaways,
floor plans, measurements, photographs and paintings. This is a painting of the
interior of that synagogue from about 1897, and
this is Isadore Kaufman, a Jewish artist living in
Vienna, who used to spend months in the sort of rural part
of what’s called Galicia, the partition of the
Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. And this is his painting of
one section of that interior. He also painted a
section of the interior of a nearby wooden synagogue that had been done
by the same artist. So we have some color
references. So what do you do when you’re
dealing with a lost object? We worked with an
educational studio in Massachusetts called
Handshouse Studio. And their mission is to
recover lost objects. Three words, recover
lost objects, captures perfectly
what they’re about. And what they say is you can
never recover the original object in the sense of
the original material. So you can never
recover it in the sense of what was tangible about it. But you can recover the
knowledge of how to build it by building it using traditional
tools, materials and techniques. In other words, you can
recover the intangible heritage. You can recover something
that is of enormous value, but in order to recover
it, you actually have to do something tangible. And the outcome is an
object, but it’s not a copy, a facsimile, a replica,
a reconstruction. I absolutely categorically — I can’t even believe
I uttered those words. I categorically reject
that terminology. Because it is an actual object. It is a new kind of
object and its value lies in the way it was created
and in the knowledge that was recovered
from creating it. And I think of it as a
very Japanese approach. In other words, there are
shrines in Japan that claim to be 800 years old and
never more than 20 years old. Because every 20 years they
tear it down in order to have to rebuild it, because
it’s only be rebuilding it that they can transmit to the
next generation how to do it. And they value the
knowledge of how to do it more than they value the
original material. So this is intangible
heritage on steroids. It is the gold standard for —
in a sense not only the recovery of a tangible heritage, but
also the role if you will or the relationship between
intangible and tangible. That is what’s so
absolutely brilliant. So what did we do? We went to the Open Air Folk
Architecture Museum just outside of Sanok in the south of Poland. And they were really great
in collaborating with us. And they allocated a big,
huge piece of their territory. They said, “Okay, you can make
your wooden synagogue here.” And of course I wanted to do it
100% scale, the whole synagogue. It’s not that big to start with, but my museum director
said it was too much. So I settled for the roof and
the painted ceiling, 85% scale. So we then ordered 200 logs
with the bark still on. And we collaborated with the
Timber Framers Guild of America and with other timber
framers in Europe. And these timber
framers, they’re maniacs. They come with their — they will go anywhere
to timber frame. And they bring with them their
historical axes and adzes and lathes and pit saws
and every imaginable tool. They brought them in golf bags
and ski bags on the airplane. I don’t know how they did it. And it was like Lord of the
Flies — not Lord of the Flies. Lord of the Rings. [ Laughter ] Oh my God, how could you
mix those two things up? Well, maybe under certain
circumstances, you know. And so we put together a team of
volunteers and these volunteers, often students, had never,
ever picked up a saw, a hammer or anything in their lives. And the whole idea was
that it would be also — because Handshouse Studio
is an educational project. And it is very do-ey. It’s very learn by doing. And so this is a pit saw. And then in the course of
three two-week workshops, we completed all
the timber framing. And so this structure,
this is the roof structure, is held together by wooden pegs. And at the end of the six
weeks, we pulled the pegs out, numbered all the parts,
put them under a tarpaulin and let them sit out
there for almost two years until we were ready to bring
all the pieces to the museum. And then you can imagine with
these beams what it was like. I photographed the whole
process of bringing these beams into the museum and
lowering them without destroying the building. And that was really something. And so what we did then
was take all the pieces, put them back together again
and we hoisted this structure. And fortunately we had come
up with what we wanted to do in time for the architect
to modify the plan and to create an
opening in the gallery so that this structure
could come all the way up and the upper part of the roof
would be in the main hall. That means that when visitors
came into the main hall for their cup of coffee or
to sit down, it was a bit like a spider’s web, you know? You would capture them and
they would say, “What’s that?” And we kept a lot
of the roof open so that they could see inside
to the internal structure. And so then it was time to
create the painted ceiling. So we divided the
painted ceiling up into about eight sections, and each
section was a two-week workshop that we conducted in a
still-standing masonry synagogue in different locations
across the length and breadth of Poland. So in Warsaw, Rawa, Solna, in
Chebshevin and [Polish city] and Krakow, and just really — for the students to be
actually creating a panel of the painted wooden
synagogue in an existing, standing masonry synagogue
was an incredible experience. And this is the result,
which is really fabulous, absolutely fabulous. Now the beama, the reader’s
platform in the middle, is actually 100% scale. And it was created in
exactly the same way. And so you get a little
bit of a sense of it. And then we have multimedia
presentation on the lectern which explains what
all the symbolism is and that kind of thing. But my favorite is the kids. Because we have a little cushion for the kids that
have two straps. And they wear it — they’re like little turtles wearing
their house on their back. But when they come to this area,
we encourage them just to lie down and to look at the ceiling. And I have a feeling for some of these kids it will be the
single most memorable experience of their childhood. Now we are very consistent
within the exhibition in keeping our visitors
in the moment. And we only use sources from
the period in the period. However, we wanted to
communicate the process by which we created this
incredible structure, and the materials
that we used for it. But that we do on the upper
level in the main hall. And we have a glass ledge
that goes all the way around, but I was astonished to see one
kid showing another kid what is going on with this roof and see
a little kid looking at a map to see where these
wooden synagogues were. So even kids — I
mean, you would think that kids need somehow or other
something more spectacular, something more digital. But actually it’s
not the case at all. So I think what I’m going to do
is very briefly give you a sense of the rest of the
exhibition, because I wanted to focus today more on heritage,
on tangible, intangible and a folklorist’s perspective. But I’ll just very, very briefly
give you a little bit of a sense of where we go from that
early modern period. So at the end of the
18th century, in 1772, the Polish-Lithuanian
commonwealth was quite decentralized. It was what was called
a republic of nobles. It had a very weak army, had
a weak king, and Prussia, Russia and Austria decided that
this was the perfect moment to each take a piece of the
royal cake, to divide up the map of the Polish-Lithuanian
commonwealth and each take a part. And so our long 19th century
is essentially the story of what happened in each of the
parts, each of the three parts that were taken over by
the kingdom of Prussia and by the Russian
and Austrian empires. And we call this
encounters with modernity. And I think a hallmark
of our approach is that we look not only at
the geopolitical situation, at the legal situation,
but also at everyday life. We look at memoirs and
we especially look also at women’s experience. And we take for example
the Jewish wedding and its transformations over the
whole period as a way of trying to understand how
ordinary people in their everyday lives were
affected by the new laws and new circumstances and
conditions of now living within these two empires
and the kingdom of Prussia. We also work with the
absence of objects for communicating a very
important development which was the modern Yeshiva. We created a beautiful
stenography in a computer, but we also painted live
actors and filmed them as a way of conveying the development
of organized responses to encounters with modernity. Which means the Jewish
Enlightenment, the modern Yeshiva
and also Hasidism. We come to the middle
of the century and it really is the
beginning of the story of industrialization
which we convey in a very beautiful multimedia,
intuitive format without words but only with images
that we’ve animated. And the rise of modern
Hebrew and Yiddish culture and new modern Jewish social
and political movements. With World War I, we
have the establishment of the Second Polish Republic. That is to say last year, 2018,
was the 100th anniversary. It’s a very short period. It’s just the ’20’s and ’30’s,
but it’s a very vibrant period. It’s a period of
economic hardship. It’s a period of
rising anti-Semitism, but it’s also a period of
extraordinary political energy, extraordinary cultural
creativity in Yiddish and in the Polish language. And with a great sense of
if you will, possibility but at the same time
uncertainty. Now I sort of want to
share one little moment in this inter-war years gallery. We divide it up thematically
into politics, culture, growing up and daily life. And in growing up we go all the
way from childhood in the family to the child’s autonomous world
of play, to the school system, to adolescence and
their youth movements and youth groups and clubs. But it was in the courtyard
of child’s autonomous play that I had the opportunity to
find a place for my father. So what happened was that
what I wanted to communicate, what I wanted to communicate
was kids made their own toys and they made them
out of nothing. They made them out of newspaper,
string, tin, rubber, branches, and they threw them away because
they would just make them and then throw them away
and make them again. And the idea of buying toys — my father doesn’t
ever remember ever that his family ever
bought him a toy. He made all his own toys. And in the late-’60’s, like
’68, ’69, I did a survey of Yiddish folklore in Canada
for the Canadian National Museum for their Center
for Folk Culture. And one of the things I
did was I got my father to make all the toys he could
remember from his childhood. Everything, everything. And he taught me
how to make them, so I know how to make them too. And I documented
them all of course. And I had him make a set for
the Canadian Museum in Ottawa. I had him make a set for YIVO. And so when it came time to
develop this area, I said, “Look, the whole idea here
is I want the children who are coming, I want
them to make these toys.” So we developed the
table that has drawers, paper, string, whatever. And then I made these toys and
in the very middle is my father with my favorite toy,
which is a bark — it’s actually a bark
horn, is what it’s called in England, in the UK. What it is, is he
called it a “tompeita” which would be a trumpet or
a “scheufer,” a ram’s horn. And apparently the Polish
peasants used to make them, but huge ones that when
you blew into them, they made an enormous sound. But as we know, a lot of those
old instruments as they devolve, they become children’s
toys essentially. So in any event, this is — and this is a little
mouse made out of a hanky. I actually have some hankies,
I can demonstrate this later if anybody’s interested, how
to make a mouse out of a hanky. And then everyday
life across the length and breadth of Poland. And so finally, ultimately we
come to 1939, September 1st. And this is one of
seven galleries in our historical narrative, and it is the gallery
dedicated to the Holocaust. And it is here that we
really develop I think — the approach that we
use is very important. And that is that it’s
very important for us that our visitors not
anticipate the Holocaust or look at the 1,000-year
history of Jews through the lens
of the Holocaust. This is extremely important. So we did everything we could
to pull back on the kind of ideological drive
to the Holocaust. And so when you look
down the street, what you see are
people looking up. And the question is, what
are they looking up at? They’re looking up
at the bombing of Warsaw during the first
week of September 1939. This is the American
ambassador to Poland and his staff standing
outside the American embassy, getting ready to evacuate. And it’s only when
you turn the corner that you actually see what
they’re looking up at. And so the Holocaust
gallery is set within the borders
of occupied Poland. That means to say
within the borders of what had been the
Second Polish Republic. And in fact all the way
through the exhibition, the story unfolds within the
borders of whatever is Poland at that time, and the Holocaust
gallery is no exception. Now we using our approach,
which is stay in the moment of the story, don’t anticipate
what’s going to happen next, keep the horizon forward,
if you will the distance between where you are in
the moment and what’s going to happen next, keep
it very, very shallow. And as the visitor
walks through the story, the future is never
very far away, but the past gets
deeper, deeper, deeper. So if it works, it’s a
very special experience. And we were able to do that
for one very particular reason. So this is a map that
shows you the Warsaw Ghetto in the city of Warsaw. And what’s important here is
that during the inter-war years, a third of the population
of the city was Jewish. And the area that was allocated
for the ghetto represented between 2 and 3% of the
territory of the city. And a third of the population in an additional 100,000 Jews
were squeezed into that area. So you had eight to
nine people in a room. So it was a very,
very, very compressed, very, very crowded area. And one of the most
extraordinary and exceptional aspects of
the story of the Warsaw Ghetto which is if you will, for us
the culmination of the process of separation and isolation. And we take the ghetto
as a culmination and we take the Warsaw
Ghetto as our pars pro toto. It’s that the gentleman on
the left, Emmanuel Ringeblum, he was a labor Zionist. He was a social activist
and he was an historian. And he created a team of
about between 40 and 60 people who created a secret archive
of everything that was going on in the Warsaw Ghetto. They collected diaries,
letters, ration cards, candy wrappers, everything. Posters, announcements, reports. They gathered everything. And the man on the right,
Chenyakow, was the head of the Jewish Council of the Judenraete the
Germans had established to run the ghetto and to
carry out their orders. And so what we do here is
we draw from their diaries and we quote from their
diaries, Ringeblum in Yiddish, Chenyakow in Polish, always
in English translation. And they accompany our
visitors through this story and this is always point, counterpoint; point,
counterpoint. It’s a double-voiced narrative. But what’s critically important
is the materials that we have to work with, because
during the Great Deportation when this team — and
there is now a film, Who Will Write Our History,
which is about this archive. During the Great Deportation, when they realized they wouldn’t
survive, they packed the archive up into those tin boxes
and they buried them. And then a few weeks before the
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising a year later, when they realized
it was absolutely the end, those that were still in the
ghetto packed up the rest of the archive and
put it into milk cans. And so there was a second cache. And it was extraordinary
that very shortly after the war ended, three of
the team that survived went out into the rebel
of the ghetto. And you can imagine
there are no streets. How do you find anything? And they located the first
cache which were the tin boxes. And they dug them up. But the second cache
was found in the 1950’s when they were digging
foundations and the earth-moving equipment
revealed these milk cans. And at first some
of the workers, they thought the milk cans
were of value and they wanted to throw out what was inside. And apparently the foreman on
the crew said, “No, no, no. This looks like Jewish stuff. We should give it to the
Jewish Historical Institute.” And they did. And it’s said that
there’s a third cache but we’ve never found it. And it was thought that it
was under the Chinese embassy in Warsaw, but we can
start to speculate there. And they actually let
us do some excavating. It was never possible
to find it. And there’s even the thought
that maybe there wasn’t. So we look at Polish-Jewish
relations during this period, again a spectrum of relations. And then there were those who
said we should end the story with the Holocaust gallery
and we said absolutely not. That there’s a very important
post-war story to tell, and we begin it with
survivors coming back. So before the war there were
about 3.3 million Jews living in Poland and 90% of them were
murdered and most of those who survived survived
in the Soviet Union. They were “saved
by deportation.” And about 250,000 Jews
ended up back in Poland, most of them coming back
from the Soviet Union. About 25,000 came out
of concentration camps. About 25,000 survived in
hiding out of 3.3 million. And the rest were
from the Soviet Union and some state of
the Soviet Union. And the big question they
asked themselves was whether to stay or to leave. And along one wall we
tell the story of staying and on the other wall
the story of leaving. And of course being a
site-specific museum, we present the history
of the creating of the Monument to
the Ghetto Heroes. We also present the
immediate post-war violence, the [foreign word] which some
of you may be familiar with it. It was followed by
emigration panic and more than half the survivors living
in Poland at the time left. We also present the
story of those who stayed and what life was
like under communism, first under Stalinism
then under communism. Everyday life, ordinary
life, ordinary people. And we come to the
if you will last wave of immigration, March 1968. This year — last year, rather. It’s only 19 days since last
year, so I’m still in 2018. But it’s the 50th anniversary of the government-sponsored
anti-Semitic campaign, anti-Zionist, ostensibly
anti-Semitic campaign of March ’68. And by that time, of the
approximately 250,000 Jews who had been in Poland
right after the war, there were now maybe 20,000 because of these
waves of immigration. And more than half of them left
as a result of this campaign. But we don’t end there. We don’t end there either. In fact, we come out into
the space of the building and the renewal of Jewish life
after the fall of communism and that would be in 1989. And it’s the first time that
we use video interviews. There are no survivor interviews
in the Holocaust gallery. There’s no post-war material
in the Holocaust gallery. And the first time you get
video interviews is from now, because they were about
now and they were made now. And the beauty of these
interviews are the questions that we asked about 20 Jews
living in Poland today. We asked them, is there a
future for Jews in Poland? Is there anti-Semitism
in Poland? Who can make Jewish Culture? Is religion important to you? Is Israel important to you? But the single most surprising
question from my point of view, not for my team, but I found
unbelievably surprising because I would never, ever,
ever have thought to ask such a question in the
United States or Canada. And that question was, did you
always know you were Jewish? And it just never occurred
to me, having grown up in an intact Jewish
family and Jewish community. It just never occurred to me. And when people ask, “How many
Jews are there in Poland today?” the best answer is
from the chief rabbi in Poland, Rabbi Schudrich. He says, “Look, we don’t know
exactly how many Jews there are. All we know is that the
number keeps increasing without the birth
rate going up.” [ Laughter ] Which gives you a
little bit of a sense. So I like to think of the museum
as in a sense contributing to the renewal of Jewish
life by demonstrating that the reasons why parents,
whether they were birth parents or adopted parents, kept that
knowledge from their children, the reasons were fear and shame. And I like to think that the
museum is a way of dispelling that fear and that shame and that the museum provides
a very rich reservoir of possibilities for
what it might mean to be a young Jewish
person in Poland today. But it’s not the absolute
end, because we want to create in our circulation
space in the middle of the exhibition
an area dedicated to Jews who left Poland. And a way for me to
convey to you what that means is there were
these hometown societies that immigrants formed, and my father’s hometown
society — it had branches. His is from the Opatu,
or Upt in Yiddish. And the Upters had a branch
in New York and a branch in Tel Aviv and a
branch in Latin America and a branch in Toronto. And my father when he
was already in his 90’s, he said basically they
gave interest-free loans, they sold cemetery plots, they
could all be buried together. My father said, “If nine
of us left, it’s over.” But sure enough, somebody from
the younger generation decided to revive this society, this hometown society,
this Manslenschaft. And of course I joined. And I get a message and it says, “On this Sunday we want
everybody from Opatu, everybody from Upt
to get together for a group photograph.” 90 people turned up
including infants. And I thought that was
absolutely exceptional that the fifth generation
should still care and identify with the place from which
their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents came. And so we want to really
capture the, if you will, the legacy of Polish Jews and
the life that Jews created when they actually left Poland. And so what I’m hoping
is that you’ll come. That you’ll come to Poland and
you’ll come to POLIN Museum. Because we would
love to welcome you. Thank you. [ Applause ] So I know that some
people have to leave. It’s a lunchtime thing, so
please feel free to do so. And those who would like
to stay for a couple of questions, with pleasure. Yeah.>>Elizabeth Peterson:
Hang on just one second.>>So the part of
what was then Poland which is now western
Ukraine was eastern Galicia. A lot of people were
killed during the Holocaust in the small towns that were
run together for various ways. Does the museum go into
any of that experience?>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: I would say that you know, I
think there’s actually a bias in the scholarship that
is being rectified. Because the scholarship
and the public perception of the Holocaust is
largely a story of what went on in the general vergamon,
meaning in the death camps. And that the story of the
area that was first occupied by the Soviets and then
occupied by the Germans when they pushed the Soviets
out, which is the story of the Einsatzgruppen
and the death squads and of the mass killings
in pits, not in death camps,
not with gas. It was direct murder,
literally, through shooting. That is the story that’s
now really being told. It’s a very, very important
area because it’s also very, very important in terms of
Polish violence against Jews. Because it’s in those
circumstances when Jews are not in ghettos and not in
death camps but are somehow in this much more I would say
loosely controlled situation that you get some of the really
worst violence of neighbors. So we actually don’t — I’ll
tell you, we do, actually. So what we do is this. We have a section
that basically deals with the Barbarossa
campaign which is that. The Barbarossa campaign
is the German invasion and the pushing out
of the Soviets. And what we do is the
way that we handle it is by presenting [foreign phrase]. And a map that shows
many, many other pogroms in this period in
the summer of ’41. And then what we do is
we do a parse pro toto and we present in detail Ponara. And it stands in for that
period of basically mass murder, but with its very specific
character in that region. So we do, yeah. The answer is yes. [ Inaudible ] Exactly. Exactly, exactly. Yes?>>Hi. This is more of a comment
than a question because I wanted to say I’ve been
to POLIN Museum. And I am absolutely your target
audience and I congratulate you. I think you’ve succeeded
so perfectly. I also have a little
anecdote to go with this. But as someone who
is an American Jew, second generation
four parents born from what was formerly the
commonwealth of Poland. Two of them from what
is still Poland and one who lost all her family
in a Warsaw suburb. We don’t even know if they
made it to the ghetto. And had a cousin who
survived Auschwitz. No one from my family
ever went back to Poland. In my 50’s I had the opportunity
to go to a conference in Krakow. Then I decided it
was time to do this and that I would go
to Warsaw as well. Fortunately, I have a
master’s degree in folklore and a PhD in American studies. I work here at the library
and I had the opportunity to hear Dr.
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett talk about her exhibit
before it opened. So I knew I was going
to the POLIN Museum. What I did not know is I was
going there every day I was in Warsaw. [ Laughter ] Back and back, and I still
was not able to absorb it all. And for me personally,
this was part of a really life-changing
experience which was to understand that I am Polish. My family thought Poland was the
place where they killed people and that’s how I was brought up. And it really had a
tremendous impact on me. I went in 2016. So I want to thank you for that. And then my anecdote is
strangely I happened to end up in Warsaw in the same time
period that NATO was there. Unbeknownst to me I came
from Washington DC along with Barak Obama,
and as a result, lots of street closures,
other things. But strangely, on
the third day I was at the museum towards
the end of the day, I saw Dr. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
in the museum, in the hallway. And I recognized her
immediately, told my spouse, “Oh my God, that’s BKG. She designed the exhibit.” And she was walking
out with a group of what must have
been dignitaries, and then she came
back in by herself. I don’t know if you’ll
remember this, because so many people
talk to you. But I walked up to her
and said, “Hi, excuse me, but I’m a folklorist and I need
to tell you I recognized you. This is fabulous.” You listened to me very
politely for a few minutes, thanked me for the
praise I heaped upon you and then you politely
excused yourself. Ten minutes later, I
discovered her giving a tour to Justin Trudeau
in the exhibit. And I have on my phone
here pictures of her and Justin Trudeau in
the Gwodziec synagogue. And so I thought you
would all appreciate that. So she is very important
in Poland as well.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Oh my God. [ Applause ] That’s phenomenal. Thank you so, so much. Thank you.>>So I’ll follow Susan with a small anecdote
and then a question. The anecdote is that my father’s
father was from Bialystok, and I’m not in one
of those families where nobody ever went back,
because my father did go back to Poland and was knocked
out just by being there. And I can only imagine if he were alive today what he
would feel seeing this museum. It just looks incredible and I think he would
be knocked over by it. And the question
is, I wonder if — and this is a very specific
question so forgive me. But I wonder if in the Holocaust
gallery there’s any reference to the human starvation study
that was done in the hospital.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Yes. Yes, there’s a whole
section, actually. One section of the Warsaw Ghetto
presentation is specifically on hunger disease.>>Okay.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Actually it’s a section
on how doctors try to cope with impossible conditions. And there are three
aspects of it. Well, one is typhus and
the other is starvation. And that hunger study, which incidentally
is full-text online. It’s in Polish, but the
full text is online.>>Yeah, my father edited
the English translation of it called Hunger Disease. His name is Myron Winnick and
he was the editor of that.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Oh yes, I know. Yes. Yes. It’s really incredible
because it’s sort of in the face of when you can’t do anything
about it, you study it.>>Right. Exactly. And the story is
amazing as well. I don’t know if you know the
story of the stamp collection. But there was a gestapo guy who
was a stamp collector and one of the doctors was
a stamp collector. And that was the way they
got some of the equipment was that the gestapo guy wanted
stamps from the Jewish doctor and was willing to help him
out with certain equipment that they didn’t have.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Amazing.>>So I’ll be in touch
with you about it later.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: We’ll be in touch, great. Thank you.>>This was just incredible. My connection to my Polish
Jewish ancestors is completely lost, but my partner has
maintained this tremendous connection through
the village of Sucaty. And she at this very
moment is out in Memphis with her cousin putting together
a book about the memories of their family from Sucaty
and how they came to the US, which fortunately was in
the ’20’s for many of them. And there’s a rededication of
the Jewish cemetery planned for the spring and now I know
we can go and spend a week or two at the Poland museum. So thank you.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Oh, my pleasure. You know, just a comment,
and that is I think that the POLIN museum, like the
wonderful new National Museum of African American history and
culture is a new kind of museum in the sense that
these are museums where visitors spend a lot
of time, if they expect to. I mean, I think one of the
issues is expectations. Because often visitors
expect in any museum that two hours is more than
enough, maybe only an hour. And then they discover that they’re there three
hours already, four hours, and they’re not finished. So what’s happening is that
what they call dwell time, or the length of the visit. It’s a very, very
different situation. It’s different than going to see a temporary
exhibition, an art exhibition. People are spending like
the whole day, several days. They’re coming back
over and over again. It’s really something different from I think what
we’ve seen before. I think of it also for the
Holocaust Museum as well. And even though we do
offer a two-hour tour, everybody says it’s frustrating,
that they didn’t feel that they could see everything. Of course you can’t
“see” everything anyway. You’ve got to make choices. But the idea that — I was just
checking Trip Advisor the other day and there are
all these people on Trip Advisor advising each
other, “Oh, allow a whole day, not less than three hours. Four hours is the minimum.” And they’re actually
telling each other that this is not
a two-hour visit. So I do appreciate that. I mean, we had one guy
who came for a whole week and he spent one
day in each gallery. That’s very dedicated. I’m not suggesting
that everybody do that. But definitely — and also
there’s a very rich cultural and educational and
public programs and temporary exhibitions. And it’s an educational
and cultural center so it’s doing all
kinds of other things. I mean, I worked on the
permanent exhibition which is so defining of the museum. But the museum is
much more than that. Is there a question here? [ Inaudible ]>>Just to continue that,
I want to thank you. It’s been such a revelation
to me in many ways, but one of them is how
you’ve changed the face of modern museums. I was a Smithsonian
fellow last year. That’s exactly what
they’re trying to do, is become more relevant. And I teach ESL students
and I ask them, “Have any of you ever
been to a museum?” No. They have to
go on a field trip. It’s obligatory in my class. I can’t tell you how I
have to drag them there. And afterwards they write to me
about how they’ve been living in America for six years and
they learned more in one day than they did, et cetera. So you are really in the
forefront, the cutting edge of the idea of museum and the
visitor which is a question of finding identity more
than learning and knowledge and interactive games
and playing.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: But you know what’s interesting, museum-going isn’t
something to assume. As a child, my parents
never took me to a museum. It was only as a school group. But my parents never — I went by myself because of
my strange Orthodox moment. [ Laughter ] I know that’s a crazy way to
actually come to love museums, but that’s how it happened. But my parents never took me. Now later of course they
would read and they would go. But not during my childhood. And I have a feeling
that that’s true for — there’s whole sections
of society where they’re not
comfortable in museums. They don’t think that
museums are for them. And I think that museums
are making a huge effort to somehow reach out and
become more accessible and more welcoming. And I think it’s a
huge opportunity. So it’s great that
you take them.>>Also I have tapped into
the idea of narrative. I’m writing my doctorate
on Holocaust memoir and transgenerational trauma. And I got kicked out of
the composition department. I had to do it as literature.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Oh.>>Because it’s neither
history — it’s kind of fiction, you know, but it isn’t at all. And so I’m coming in
between two schools.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Understood, understood. Thank you.>>The idea of using
narrative is very important. Thank you so much.>>Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Thank you. Thank you, thank you. It looks like it’s
exhaustive and exhausting. [ Applause ] Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Elizabeth Peterson: Thank
you so much for coming. February 21st is our next Botkin
lecture on folklore and aging by John Kay from
Indiana University. Please come back then. And thank you again, Barbara
Kirschenblatt-Gimblett for a wonderful talk. [ Applause ]

Jean Kelley

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