Pressure mounts on Polish government to save WWII museum

AP News
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Posted: May 05, 2016 7:11 AM
Pressure mounts on Polish government to save WWII museum

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's conservative government is coming under growing pressure to permit the opening next year of a major new museum on World War II — an ambitious project with an international approach that the country's nationalistic new leaders dislike.

Work on the Museum of the Second World War has been underway for eight years and it was due to open early next year in Gdansk, the northern Polish port city where some of the opening shots of the war were fired. It aims to be the first museum in the world that tells the story of the war in its entirety, focusing on the suffering of civilian populations across Europe and Asia.

But the country's ruling party, Law and Justice, has put the fate of the museum in question. Party leaders have made clear they prefer to create a museum that focuses exclusively on the Polish experience and are threatening to cancel the current project.

An organization representing Polish wartime resistance fighters wrote to Culture Minister Piotr Glinski this week expressing "deep concern" about the fate of the museum. The World Union of the Home Army Veterans said it had put "great hope in a dignified commemoration" that the museum promised of the wartime experience of Poles and others who came under Nazi and Soviet occupations.

Meanwhile, some 200 historians from the United States and Europe, including some of the world's most distinguished experts on the war and 20th-century history, sent a separate appeal to Glinski on Wednesday asking him to allow the museum to open, saying "any interruption in its work will count as tragedy in the eyes of all who study the past and all who care about Poland's future."

"A huge exhibition is almost ready for visitors, reflecting years of hard work as well as expenditures of many millions of dollars. To close it now would constitute a grave injustice, unprecedented in the democratic western world," the scholars wrote. Among those who signed the letter are John Gaddis from Yale, Charles Maier from Harvard and Istvan Deak from Columbia.

Some government supporters oppose the idea of the museum because they fear that Polish suffering and military resistance will get short shrift if set alongside the wartime history of other nations. The government says it is considering replacing the museum as originally conceived with one focused only on the German attack on Poland in 1939.

The creators of the original museum argue that placing the Polish experience in the global context will instead help non-Polish visitors gain an even better understanding of Poland's wartime tragedy, when it was subject to two brutal occupations — German and Soviet.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder, who also signed the letter and has been an adviser on the project, wrote a piece in support of the museum that was published on Tuesday by the New York Review of Books.

"The collapse of democracy, the museum's first theme, could hardly be more salient than it is right now. And the presentation of the conflict as a global tragedy could hardly be more instructive," Snyder wrote. "The pre-emptive liquidation of the museum is nothing less than a violent blow to the world's cultural heritage."

The Culture Ministry's press office said Thursday that there is still no final decision about the museum's future.