On April 19, 1943, Jews condemned to death in the Warsaw Ghetto rose up in an unprecedented heroic struggle against the German occupation. The commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the ghetto uprising is approaching. Joanna Maria Stolarek, director of the Warsaw office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation spoke with Zygmunt Stępiński, director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN in Warsaw about the commemoration, the nature of remembrance, and the universal message that the uprising and its commemoration bring.
Joanna Maria Stolarek: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising started 80 years ago. This year is a very special anniversary. How should it be commemorated?
Zygmunt Stępiński*: The uprising should always be remembered. This anniversary is very important not only for Jews living in Poland but also for those living in Israel, as well as for the whole Jewish diaspora. And for the Poles too. It was the first armed uprising of the Jews who had been locked and isolated in ghettos, condemned to die as a result of hunger, disease or crimes committed there. Condemned also to be transported to Treblinka, a death camp where they were murdered on the very day of their arrival, their bodies burnt. Let me remind you that at its peak, there were as many as 450,000 people confined in the Warsaw ghetto.
It was also the first armed uprising in occupied Europe.
We should remember this because the Shoah brought an end to the almost one-thousand-year history of the Jewish diaspora in Poland. When the Second World War started, the Jewish community in Poland numbered over 3.5 million people. Those who survived both the occupation and the Holocaust in Poland amounted to 50,000. Some 250,000 Jews survived the war in the Soviet Union. They started coming back to Poland in waves from 1945 onwards, just to find ruins and rubble, with no possibility of living in their previous houses, which had already been taken by other people.
The scale of this genocide is unimaginable. We refer to abstract numbers, but it is extremely difficult to picture the loneliness of an individual, to visualise and feel the scale of this tragedy, the experience of the people locked in ghettos all across the country. For more than two years, these people lived with the awareness that it was already the end, with virtually no hope of being saved.
When the uprising started, there were 50,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. They were civilians. They weren’t members of any armed organisation. However, they were fighting too: for every minute, every hour, every day of their lives. The attitude demonstrated by these civilians who had been preparing for survival for a long time, refused to follow German orders and constructed bunkers and shelters instead in an attempt to save their own lives and those of their loved ones was absolutely remarkable. It was a demonstration of extreme heroism.
For years we kept repeating the phrase ‘never again’. Meanwhile, just a few hundred kilometres from Warsaw, in Ukraine, a terrible war is being waged by Russia against the Ukrainian nation and state. Genocidal crimes are being committed again. We shall not be indifferent! This is the Eleventh Commandment, which Marian Turski, a concentration camp survivor, a witness of that tragic history and the President of the Museum Advisory Board, has addressed to the whole world.
After Hitler came to power in Germany, the Jews were gradually deprived of all their rights day by day. The world was watching, indifferent to what was going on. Well, we know what happened next. That’s why it is so important not to be indifferent to the crimes committed by Russians in Ukraine nowadays. But evil is happening in other parts of the world too, and from an individual perspective, very often also right next to us, sometimes even in the very street where we live.
We should remember, that’s one thing. But how should we do so? Who gets to decide what this remembrance looks like? What is the culture of this remembrance? How should we remember at a time when some of the witnesses are still alive but will be gone soon?
The witnesses are becoming fewer and fewer. It’s really a very small group of people. They were little children when the Shoah happened. Some were saved because they were taken out of the ghetto and handed over to families living on the Aryan side who looked after them and helped them survive. Very few survived the Holocaust in the ghetto itself or were taken out of the ghetto when the uprising was already in progress. One of them is Krystyna Budnicka, the only member of the Kuczer family to survive the Shoah. Her meetings with young people are very popular. Our auditorium is always filled to capacity when she comes. These events are extremely important. It’s really the last moment when it’s still possible to listen to a living Holocaust survivor sharing their personal experience.
From a more general point of view, it is the position of each and every one of us that counts. That’s why we launched the Daffodil Campaign, which this year, already for the 11th time, will serve as a reminder of what the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was all about. It is with great satisfaction that we see more and more people learning about this uprising. In 2013, we recruited a few dozen volunteers. Today, there are over 3,000 onboard. Ten years ago, few people knew about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Today, over 90% of people living in Warsaw do know about it, as confirmed by the Warsaw Barometer survey.
Let me repeat the question: How should we best remember? What is the correct way to do so?
The best way to remember is through education. You should go back to the sources, organise meetings with the survivors of the nightmare of Shoah, the Ghetto isolation, and the uprising itself. There are fewer and fewer of them, but many have managed to record their testimonies. These have a unique educational value. Education, including education about the Holocaust, is one of the key programmes of the POLIN Museum. Last year, over half a million schoolchildren from all over Poland took part in workshops organised at the core exhibition and in lessons.
Most societies in developed democratic countries live in prosperity. Some are better off, some less so, but in general we have enjoyed peace in Europe for many years. Over thirty years ago there was a genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now, the same is happening in Ukraine and the whole world is watching. ‘Never again’ we said, didn’t we?! We need to keep explaining to young people the potential consequences of indifference and that peace can’t be taken for granted. In the future, these young people will be able to impact the actions of their governments, societies, and nations. We want them to be able to learn lessons from the history of the Holocaust, as well as the genocides in the Balkans and in Ukraine.
You are talking about the European and global context of the culture of remembrance. Do you think that there is a specific role that Poland should play when it comes to shaping the culture of remembrance? I am referring to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
You can track down how the subsequent anniversaries of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were commemorated. In 1946, the first monument was unveiled. It was a very modest one and took the form of a manhole cover, as the Jews had tried to escape from the ghetto through the sewers. In 1948, one of the world’s most recognisable monuments was erected – the Monument of the Ghetto Heroes by Natan Rapoport. This was followed by a shameful period of silence. It was only Jews who commemorated the anniversaries, including representatives of the very few Jewish organisations and their friends. We need to keep in mind that most Jews who had miraculously survived the war emigrated from Poland in subsequent waves. This also applied to their children. The last wave of emigration was the result of the antisemitic campaign in 1968.
In 1983, it was the communists who came up with the idea of organising an official event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Marek Edelman, the last leader of the uprising, was invited. Of course, he refused to come because many people connected with the Polish democratic opposition were either detained or imprisoned at that time. Opposition activists organised their own unofficial event commemorating the anniversary, at which Marek Edelman delivered a wonderful speech.
It was only at the end of the 1980s that a breakthrough occurred. It became a tradition to gather in front of the monument. The gatherings were attended by Marek Edelman along with his friends and colleagues belonging to the democratic opposition, and also more and more Warsaw residents each year. It was the first time that Marek Edelman had received a bouquet of yellow flowers from an unknown woman. From that time on, he would lay yellow flowers at the Monument of the Ghetto Heroes every year. Thus, a new tradition emerged. In the past, it had only been Jews who had gathered at the monument, including my peers and their families. This was brutally interrupted after 1968, when over 13,000 Polish Jews who had been trying to rebuild their lives in post-war Poland were forced to leave the country as a result of the government’s antisemitic policy. It only became possible to gather at the monument once again towards the end of the 1980s, when the communist authorities let the refugees come to Poland and attend the commemoration ceremonies.
Later, the commemoration ceremonies, especially the decennial ones, began to be organised by the state, represented by the subsequent presidents. Representatives of the highest authorities, including those in Germany, have since been invited and attended, which is of exceptional importance.
An exceptionally symbolic gesture was the visit paid by German Chancellor Willy Brandt in December 1970. He knelt down at the Monument of the Ghetto Heroes and apologised. Thus, the Germans accepted their responsibility. Willy Brandt will be remembered as the first German politician, and for a long time the only one, to have had the courage to make such a declaration.
Nowadays, commemoration ceremonies are organised at Rapoport’s monument by the state every year. They are accompanied by unofficial commemoration events attended by hundreds of people of all ages. Our museum, as already mentioned, organises the Daffodil Campaign, which reaches millions of people in Poland and beyond, including the United States, Canada, and Israel. Daffodils are distributed at the European Parliament and sent to diplomatic missions. We want the memory of the uprising to be vivid beyond Poland because it carries a profound humanistic message.
What would you expect from Germans in terms of commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising?
My daughter, who left Poland a long time ago, married a German man. She lives in Frankfurt and has two children. When I went to Frankfurt to visit her for the first time, she showed me an exhibition about the German responsibility for the Second World War. It had a strong focus on IG Farben, whose former headquarters now house Goethe University. It is common knowledge what this company was during the war, what it manufactured and where and to whom its products were delivered. My 13-year-old granddaughter saw this exhibition too. She is an exceptionally smart girl and from then on, she was interested in the Shoah. I believe she must have read all the children’s books on this topic. One year ago, she called me and said: ‘Grandpa, I’d like to ask you a favour. Could you arrange for me to meet Mr Marian Turski?’ I called Marian, who had been a friend of mine for years, and told him my granddaughter wanted to see him to get first-hand information. He agreed to meet her, of course. When they met, he answered all her questions. Their meeting was supposed to take one hour. Instead, it took five! Marian Turski said it was one of the most important meetings he had ever had in his life. The last question was asked by my grandson: ‘Mr Turski, what would you do if you met some real antisemites. We all know they are still active.’ Marian told him the story of how he was asked by the BBC to meet three Nazi party leaders from the Great Britain, Germany, and Italy at the former Auschwitz concentration camp. He agreed. He said it was the first time in his life that he didn’t know how to react when an Italian neo-Nazi asked him: ‘What proof do you have that your brother and father were killed in Auschwitz? They could have escaped, they could have been saved, they could have survived. You have no proof that they were really killed in Auschwitz.’ Marian then stood up and left.
I am telling this story just to show what an incredibly powerful impression it makes on young people to talk to a survivor, in Poland and probably in Germany as well. Marian Turski was isolated in the Litzmannstadt Ghetto for five years. Later he was imprisoned in Auschwitz, where of his entire family only he and his mother survived, and finally he participated in the death marches. When Marian talks to children, he doesn’t just tell them what happened to him during the Shoah. It is more than that. He is a very skilled orator and finds the right words to stir the children’s imagination and sensitivity.
And now to answer your question about how to remember and what I expect from Germany or any other country, for that matter. Well, it’s education, education, and once again education. There is no other way to either show or describe what happened during the Shoah. Especially given the fact that all this has already been thoroughly researched and covered in papers which are widely available. All it takes is goodwill.
You’ve talked about Marian Turski meeting your grandchildren and the direct message passed on by a survivor having quite a different impact than just reading a book or watching a film. However, what will we do when there are no longer any survivors? What next?
New technologies are advancing. For half a year now we have been working on a Marian Turski avatar. After numerous attempts to convince him, he finally agreed to make the recordings. His avatar will be available at the ‘Legacy’ gallery of the POLIN Museum. Visitors will be able to ask it thousands of questions. A very fast computer program will answer them all automatically.
Does it mean it will use artificial intelligence?
Yes, it will. Can it replace Marian who still attends such meetings in person? No, it can’t. Will it replace Ms Krystyna Budnicka? No, it won’t. Will it replace my foster mother, who for 10 years travelled from Warsaw to Łódź just to meet American schoolchildren who came to Łódź with their teacher every year and listened to her telling them about life in the ghetto? No, it won’t.
Do you know what is important in all this? Neither she nor Marian Turski carry any hatred in themselves. They have never said that they hate the Germans. They hate only those Germans who made people suffer this tragic fate. This doesn’t apply to young generations. 80 years have passed. We need to talk about it and focus on building bridges and mutual understanding.
You mentioned education. In Germany, but not only in Germany, the two uprisings, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising, are often confused with each other. It is precisely education that is crucial for preventing such mistakes, isn’t it?
There were indeed two uprisings in Warsaw just over a year apart. Sometimes Warsaw is even referred to as the city of two uprisings. This might also be confusing. By the way, I am not sure if Polish young people (especially those who don’t live in Warsaw) aren’t confused too. I am sure, however, that the knowledge about this cruel war and the Holocaust is starting to blur. After all, 80 years have passed. When I was at school, I probably didn’t know much about the history of the 19th century either, did I? Of course, there is a fundamental difference here – the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising really needs to be remembered. That’s why I hope that Germans will visit both the POLIN Museum and the Warsaw Uprising Museum. If they do, everything will become clear for them, I guess.
Coming back to the two uprisings. The only thing these two tragic events have in common is the city itself. You can’t compare the situation of the Jews who had been locked in the ghetto since 1940 and were being systematically exterminated with the situation of the Poles right before the outbreak of the uprising. Just to make it clear: The situation of the Poles living ‘on the other side of the wall’ was very difficult too. Many were arrested and tortured, roundups took place daily, and public executions were frequent too. The Poles were suffering terribly. However, Poland had a government working in exile in London. In Poland itself, the Home Army was a powerful force. That’s why it was decided to start the uprising in August 1944 before the arrival of the Red Army offensive. Let’s remember one thing: The Warsaw Uprising broke out because its leaders hoped for strategic victory. The Jews in 1943 were not fighting for victory in a military sense. They stood no chance.
However, the consequences of both uprisings were similar. During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, almost all the Jews were killed on the spot or in the Treblinka extermination camp. Few survived. In military terms, there was nothing to win in 1943 and nothing was won. It was a triumph of humanity, a revolt of those condemned to death. During the Warsaw Uprising, some 200,000 people died, some of them at the very beginning, under circumstances which were simply cruel. The SS units commanded by Oskar Dirlewanger brutally murdered, among others, 30,000 civilians who were not involved in the uprising.
After the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the entire Jewish quarter in which the walled ghetto had previously been established was destroyed and burnt down house by house. During and after the Warsaw Uprising, the whole city was destroyed completely. Thus, there are similarities too. However, these were also two completely different uprisings. I try to understand those who want to find similarities, but it is important that the differences shouldn’t be blurred either.
I understand, absolutely. What has been the guiding idea for you or the museum when it comes to commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising? What do you want to show?
We have decided that the main event of the POLIN Museum programme in 2023 will be a temporary exhibition dedicated to the uprising. We invited Professor Barbara Engelking of the Polish Centre for Holocaust Research, one of the finest experts on the history of the Warsaw ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising worldwide, to work with us on this project. She came up with her own idea of what the exhibition should look like. We have decided that it should be dedicated to civilians – the Jews who decided to remain in the ghetto, in extremely difficult conditions, in isolation, without any help from outside, condemned to their fate, without any hope of survival. They were hiding because they didn’t want to be transported to Treblinka. Their passive resistance was a form of warfare. We treat them the same way as the fighters. It was a fight for survival, for life, for one more day, one more week, maybe longer. That’s why it is very important to us.
The history and development of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising itself are quite well documented. However, as regards the civilians whose fate we’ve decided to show at the exhibition, we have been able to use just a few scraps of information, the very few materials created in the ghetto which have miraculously been preserved. We have also used accounts written down during the uprising by Jews hiding on the ‘Aryan’ side as well as written and oral testimonies of those who survived the uprising in the ghetto itself. It’s not much, really. On that basis, knowing how the Jews were preparing for their uprising, how they constructed bunkers with access to water, electricity, and fresh air, we have built a story about the tragic fate of the civilian population.
I have lived in Warsaw for 76 years. I learnt of my Jewish descent at a relatively late age. I had seen the Monument of the Ghetto Heroes many times. Believe me, for many years I was aware only of its front side, which now faces the POLIN Museum.
The entire composition of the museum’s surroundings and interior, as designed by its architect, Rainer Mahlamäki, begins with the monument commemorating the heroes of the uprising. The fighters are facing the museum. The POLIN Museum, as we often say, is a museum of life. It tells the thousand-year history of Jews living on Polish soil, with a large window opening onto the park. By the way, this is the park with the Willy Brandt Monument.
The other side of the monument, the ‘other’ one, as we call it, tells the history of civilians. Every day on my way to work I pass the monument and see the people depicted on it being hustled to face their death. One day it was snowing. I got my camera and took a picture. There was snow at the feet of the figures shown on that ‘other’ side of the monument. It was so thick that the camera captured the snowflakes. I think this is the quintessential picture of those civilians and the conditions in which they lived and were hustled to the Umschlagplatz. To be transported to Treblinka in cattle cars. To die in gas chambers.
However, this idea of Natan Rapoport, who designed the monument, had a historical justification. Let me quote my colleague working at the Museum, Doctor Renata Piątkowska:
The Eastern wall of the monument with the stone bas-relief ‘March towards Death’ is the most important part of the gallery ‘Post-war Years’ at the core exhibition of the POLIN Museum. We exhibit there a copy of the original ‘March towards Death’ bas-relief by Rapoport as well as photos from private archives showing how important this side of the monument was for the survivors, depicting the ‘people of Israel’ setting out on their last journey towards death, towards nothingness.
In his composition, Rapoport made direct reference to Samuel Hirszenberg’s iconic work ‘Golus’. Hirszenberg was inspired by the scene of the Jewish march depicted on the Arch of Titus, erected in Rome after 81, following the Roman victory over the Israelites. It shows the defeated Israelites marching with different objects (including a seven-branched menorah) from the Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by the Roman army. The destruction of the Holy Temple is a symbolic date marking the beginning of the diaspora, i.e. the dispersal of Jews forced to leave Jerusalem.
Hirszenberg’s ‘Golus’, completed in 1904, depicts another stage of this perennial lonely journey of the Jews forced to leave their homeland. It quickly became an internationally recognised icon of the Jewish fate.
The way Rapoport understood his task was similar to the way Hirszenberg understood his. As he said himself: ‘I wanted to present the Jewish martyrdom under the Nazi occupation, and in particular the Jewish heroism demonstrated by the ghetto heroes and the partisans, with dignity, emphasising its deep historical sense and its link with the Jewish martyrdom and heroism from the past. I saw the Jewish martyrdom during the occupation not as an isolated historical episode but rather as a link in the chain of Jewish suffering lasting for two thousand years in the form of Jewish persecution, oppression, inquisition, and pogroms.’ (Der szafer fun denkmal natan rapoport wegn zajn werk [The creator of the monument, Natan Rapoport, about his work], in: Der denkmal fun jidiszer gwure un martirertum / Le monument du ghetto de Varsovie / Pomnik ku czci Ghetta warszawskiego, translated by Anna Szyba, Paris 1948, p. 6–7).
We are trying to draw people’s attention to the other side of the monument because we want it to become once again a part of the story about civilians, which will now dominate the POLIN Museum programme for a few months.
You inspired me when we last met and talked about this. When I was on my way to the Museum today, I went to the other side of the monument to take a look.
I know that this message will get through and people will also lay flowers on the other side of the monument, which commemorates those quiet heroes who had the courage to fight for their lives too.
This is a temporary exhibition. Now let’s get back to the idea of the POLIN Museum itself. It is already widely known. Everybody who visits Warsaw starts with POLIN. Why is the POLIN Museum such a phenomenon? Why does it attract so many people?
As a former architecture critic, I should start by praising the museum building for its total uniqueness. However, now I think that the POLIN Museum is hugely popular primarily because of its core exhibition. It tells the story of centuries of Jewish history in Poland. This history is unknown to both Poles and Israelis, who haven’t been taught it, but also to Jews in the diaspora who have forgotten or have never known where they come from.
70% of Jewish families living worldwide, primarily in Israel and the United States, have their roots in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Their history has been dominated by the Shoah. Poland – I mean both its territory in geographical terms and the state itself – has been perceived for a long time as the largest Jewish cemetery. Few understood that it was the Germans and not the Poles who built the extermination camps. They chose Poland only because the greatest number of Jews lived in this region comprising Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. This solved many logistical problems and significantly reduced the costs of exterminating Jews. It was easier and more efficient to build death camps in Poland to murder people right where they lived.
I strongly believe that we have made a significant breakthrough because we are the only museum in the world that shows almost a thousand years of the history of the Jewish diaspora within the historical borders of Poland. When you run a museum, it is important to have credibility. We don’t shy away from difficult topics. You can’t separate the history of Poland from the history of Jews. They formed side by side, in constant contact, also in disputes and conflicts. Until the Shoah. We show the contribution made by Jews to Polish culture, the Polish economy, science, and art. We also address the antisemitism which formed when national states began to emerge, reaching its peak in Poland before the Second World War.
I also asked about the phenomenon of POLIN. What is it and why does it work?
The phenomenon is the exhibition. For many years, over one hundred eminent experts worked on it under the leadership of Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. They represented different schools, institutes, and universities. They were researchers, historians, ethnographers, and anthropologists. To sum up, they were the best experts available in the world. It was the community of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland that came up with the idea of establishing what was initially called the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews (the name POLIN was added a few years after the core exhibition opened). After the members of the Association visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, they came back to Poland and said: ‘We don’t want to have another Holocaust museum. We want to have a museum which shows how those people lived, not how they died.’ It is only the penultimate gallery of the exhibition that shows the destruction of the Jewish diaspora in Poland. All the preceding ones, starting with the ‘Forest’ gallery dedicated to the arrival of the first Jews in Poland, show the history of the development of the Jewish community and culture, the tradition of all the great movements in Judaism, Jewish industry, economics, and science. They also cover Jewish writers, poets, painters and composers, outstanding people in general who belonged to the community of Polish Jews. The ‘Legacy’ gallery tells their stories. Visitors can learn about Jews who made a huge contribution to the development of global civilization, including Hollywood artists who left Poland to escape antisemitism and later contributed to the American film and entertainment industry. After the gallery opened, we were immediately asked why we had included Rosa Luxemburg as one of the eminent Jews. Arthur Rubinstein is okay, and so is Samuel Goldwyn. Also Ben Gurion, of course, as he is one of the founders of the state of Israel. Great writers, Nobel Prize winners, philosophers, Raphael Lemkin (who coined the term genocide), Helena Rubinstein, etc. are all fine. But why Rosa Luxemburg? Well, Rosa Luxemburg is also part of the history of Polish Jews. Her story should be and has been told. We do not care about her political views or that she believed that national states should be abolished so that the proletariat could rule. It is precisely this that shows the extraordinary richness of this legacy.
Let me come back to the question regarding the culture of remembrance. Who gets to decide how the story of the Jews, the Shoah and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will be told? After all, this is also a political tool.
It is the POLIN Museum that makes decisions about its programme. I could say it is the director, but that wouldn’t be true. POLIN is in fact a team of great experts who develop programmes that win the most prestigious museum awards. It is primarily their success. Of course, I do attend our programme meetings, and my university degree is in history, but for most of my professional life I have managed large projects, so I am in fact a typical manager.
Together, we make decisions about the themes of the next temporary exhibitions. We want them to be diverse and address a variety of issues. Sometimes we present a given theme through art, sometimes it’s Jewish cuisine or the fate of civilians in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. We are the ones who choose our content-related and media partners.
We are of course open to discussions and disputes with academics and researchers. We know it takes years to gain credibility, and just seconds to lose it.
Until the outbreak of the pandemic, 50% of our visitors were foreign tourists, mostly from the United States, Israel, Germany, France, England, Spain, and Canada. Today, we are delighted also to see among our visitors the Ukrainians who have found shelter in Poland. The Education Department has prepared a unique programme for them, primarily for schoolchildren. It shows them Jewish history, but it also makes it easier for them to adapt in the new country to which they have fled. Poland is a country with an extremely difficult, dramatic history, similar to the one these people are now experiencing themselves. We are not indifferent. The Ukrainian flag was raised in front of our museum on the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We have twelve employees from Ukraine. We have offered them the opportunity to continue their professional lives in a foreign country which might turn out to be their country of residence forever. We can’t tell what the outcome of the war will be and whether they’ll decide to go back to Ukraine or rather stay in Poland.
How do you imagine the next anniversaries of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising? What should the culture of remembrance be like?
We have unique recordings and accounts of the witnesses who have already passed away, so education based on oral history, which plays a key role, will not change. We will be the guardians of the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. We will be outspoken about combatting any forms of exclusion, segregation, racism, and antisemitism. I am sure that my colleagues working in our POLIN team who are a few generations younger than me will see to it.
In 2022, over 500,000 schoolchildren from all over Poland took part in the Daffodil Campaign. This year, the campaign is going to take place in Warsaw but also in other cities such as Białystok, Lublin, Łódź, Kraków and Wrocław. Every year, there will be more and more partner cities. POLIN is a party to the agreement made between Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, and Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw. We have sent daffodils and education materials to over one hundred Jewish communities all over the world, chosen by the World Jewish Congress, as well as to the European Parliament, the Knesset, the Senate, and the Congress.
Foreign partners keep contacting our museum, which confirms that the campaign is becoming more and more well known and appreciated. Recently, I received an e-mail from a teacher working in Christchurch, New Zealand, asking me to send her daffodils and educational materials. I have sent them, and they have just arrived. Christchurch, New Zealand… that’s 10,000 km from Warsaw. It’s a 27-hour flight!
There will be more and more ad hoc reactions, which confirms that the programme of our museum – including the Daffodil Campaign and the promotion of the Eleventh Commandment ‘Thou shalt not be indifferent!’ – makes sense because it’s about universal values which are important all over the world. Our work over the years has not been in vain. Last year, about 50 million people worldwide came across the hashtag #RememberingTogether. How many will it be this year? I am not going to guess…
* Zygmunt Stępiński graduated from the Department of History at the University of Warsaw. He has been engaged in social activities of Jewish organizations in Poland and abroad for years. In the 1980s he was active in the democratic opposition. He was a publisher and journalist, co-founder of the MURATOR Publishing Company and long-term chairman of its board, co-author of communal programs: "Affordable home” and “Home with no barriers."
In the years 2012-2019, as Deputy Director of POLIN Museum, Mr Stępiński supervised the operation of the departments of education, communications, as well as sales and marketing. He has a fair share in the Museum’s record-breaking attendance and in the remarkable success of its program.
Since February 2019 Mr Stępiński was Acting Director of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. He was nominated as the Museum Director on 1 March 2020.
This article first appeared here: pl.boell.org