The Karski Heritage

Three Institutes of Contemporary Polish Political Memory

Jan Karski, a prominent figure in the Polish resistance movement and the post-war examination of the past, died in Washington in 2000. Immediately after the start of World War II he was held as a Soviet prisoner of war, but he managed to escape and join the resistance. He acted as a contact with the Polish government in exile until the Gestapo captured and brutally tortured him. His reports, for example about the ghetto, reached the highest levels in Britain and America, but the information was greeted with incredulity or indifference. Elie Wiesel and Claude Lanzmann were among the first to appreciate Karski’s significance and even while he was still alive spoke up about the sidelined witness. POLIN (Warsaw) POLIN is known as one of Europe’s ‘star museums’. The building was completed in 2013 and the permanent exhibition about the past 1000 years of Polish Jewish History opened in October 2014. That had been preceded by 22 years of research and raising donations. Interestingly, the display includes hardly any original objects. Traditionally, for most museums the ideal of authenticity was based on the notion that reality could only be presented by means of original objects. However, as POLIN aims to show, the earliest finds of the thousand-year past can in effect no longer be discovered, while later relics have been completely destroyed or survive in an incomplete form. European Solidarity Centre (Gdańsk) In 1998 Paweł Adamowicz, leader of the Gdańsk municipal council, and the historian Jerzy Kukliński jointly decided to establish a museum about the Solidarity movement. Thus was born the Polish Roads to Freedom Solidarity Museum Project. The tender for its design, the results of which were announced in December 2007, was supported by the municipality of Gdańsk and the Ministry of Culture’s Department for Cultural Heritage of the Polish Republic. Having been open for just one year the European Solidarity Centre was awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2016. The Emigration Museum (Gdynia) The Emigration Museum focuses on Polish emigration in a broad historical perspective. The museum opened in 2015 in a port building constructed in Modern style in 1933, which witnessed the arrival and departure of millions. Reconstruction and transformation into a museum of what was used to be one of Europe’s ultra-modern buildings was undertaken in the framework of the JESSICA project, thanks to the work of the Arsa Design Studio. The result is outstanding. The exhibition follows a linear timeline presenting the period of the Great Emigration (1831-1870), the industrial revolution from the 1770s to the 1850s, mass migration to the USA at the beginning of the 20th century, the settlement of Polish agricultural labourers in South America, World War II and the years of the Polish People’s Republic, as well as the period connected with joining the European Union.