Shared Histories and Commemorative Extension: Warsaw's POLIN Museum

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The Muranów district of Warsaw is a complex palimpsest of pasts and genealogies, a place where for hundreds of years Polish Jews lived and thrived, and where they were later corralled, starved, murdered, and transported to death camps. The newest addition to this memorial landscape, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, has revivified symbolic investments in the district’s architectural destruction and the absence of its Jewish populations. Topographically, the significance of the museum is signified through the centrality of its location in the district and its proximity to Nathan Rapoport’s Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, erected in 1948. This essay analyzes POLIN Museum in its relational engagements with the Rapoport Monument to demonstrate how commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto and the victims of the Holocaust penetrates the entirety of the museum’s historical narrative. This museum, the essay argues, encourages the visitor to honor both the dead and the history of the living, thus making commemoration and learning mutually generative. Placing historical consciousness in a commemorative frame that extends memory across multiple ethnic groups, it argues that POLIN Museum offers a shared history, which is constructed through its wider relations to the memorial terrain of the former Warsaw Ghetto and its architectural and design forms. Contrasting POLIN with the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the essay considers how a commemorative register can engage with a museum’s use of theatricality to activate visitors as historical agents and critical interpreters of the past. In doing so it analyzes the relationship among affect, theatricality, and spectacle in museum spaces. The essay’s aim is to demonstrate how POLIN Museum extends the scope of and breaks down the perceived binaries among history museums, memorial museums, and monuments
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-401
Number of pages19
JournalTheatre Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2017

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