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"Rising from the Rubble"

Creating the Museum of the History of Polish Jews on the Site of the Warsaw Ghetto

Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, University Professor; Professor of Performance Studies, Affiliated Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

Thursday, February 10, 7:30 p.m.
Oak Room, Indiana Memorial Union, Bloomington

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In the sixty years since the Holocaust and the decimation of once large and vibrant Jewish communities in Europe, sites of memory have proliferated. While those related to the Holocaust—memorials, historic sites, museums—continue to be the focus of travel by those interested in what happened to Europe’s Jews, Jewish museums play an important role in communicating the history of Jews before (and to some degree since) the Holocaust. In recent years, particularly with the fall of Communism, several new Jewish museums, some of them very ambitious, have opened or are being planned, while older ones are undergoing renovation and expansion. Several of them have become icons on the urban landscape, sites of conscience, and focal points of heritage and memorial itineraries. 

A fundamental dilemma for Jewish museums and historic sites is their relationship to contemporary Jewish communities in Europe, on the one hand, and to the overwhelming concern of Jewish tourists from the United States, Israel, and elsewhere with Holocaust sites, on the other—to mention only the enormous popularity and perceived success of March of the Living, which brings thousands of Jewish youth to Holocaust sites in Poland. Even as Holocaust memorials and museums continue to be created, there are efforts not only to remember those who died and how they died, but also to honor their memory by paying attention to how they lived and the civilization they created. The most ambitious recent examples include the Jewish Museum (Berlin) and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is scheduled to open in Warsaw in 2013.

 generally confined their itinerary to sites related to the Shoah. Dedicated to telling the story of a millenium of Jewish civilization in Polish lands right up to the ever evolving present, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, will offer an alternative itinerary, one that leads visitors through what has been described as Poland’s early modern "multicultural" heritage. Where will it take them and what encounters will it engender? What impact will this museum have on the city of Warsaw today? This talk will explore the challenges of creating this multimedia narrative museum on the site of the former Warsaw ghetto and historic Jewish neighborhood of Warsaw, a museum that aims to be a portal, a forum, and a catalyst in the "New Poland." 

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is University Professor, Professor of Performance Studies, and Affiliated Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Her books  include Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage;  Image before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (with Lucjan Dobroszycki); and The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (edited with Jonathan Karp). Her edited volume Writing a Modern Jewish History: Essays in Honor of Salo W. Baron, won a National Jewish Book Award. They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust (with Mayer Kirshenblatt) won two Canadian book awards. She is the recipient of many honors, including resident fellowships at the Getty Research Institute and Hebrew University's Institute for Advanced Study and the Guggenheim fellowship. In 2008, she was honored with the Foundation for Jewish Culture's award for lifetime achievement and the Mlotek Prize for Yiddish and Yiddish Culture. She is currently leading the core exhibition development team for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. She and her husband, Max Gimblett, an artist, live and work on New York’s Lower East Side.


This lecture is free and open to the public. If you have a disability and need assistance, arrangements can be made to accommodate most needs. Please contact the Borns Jewish Studies Program at 812-855-0453 or email