June 24, 2013

Yad Vashem at Auschwitz State Museum

When I visited the Auschwitz Museum in 2007 on an impromptu tour from downtown Krakow, my Polish tour guide recited a version of WWII history that was little more than a collection of fragmented statistics. The word "German" was completely erased from her vocabulary and the only personal-scale narrative was the story of a Catholic priest who sacrificed his life to help a prisoner escape. Jewish narratives were non-existent from the tour and the Israeli Pavilion was locked.

Given that Auschwitz is a Polish institution and Yad Vashem is an Israeli one, last week's opening of the new permanent exhibit, at Auschwitz (produced by Yad Vashem), is a significant moment. I haven't seen it, but knowing something of the atmosphere of Polish/Jewish dynamics, the construction of this exhibit is something of a small and complex miracle.

Having Yad Vashem at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum will no doubt be a strong and guiding presence in an otherwise cold and empty place. It will be a good thing for Poland, for Europe and for the rest of the world. Congratulations to everyone involved.

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