New director of Poland’s Jewish museum vows independence

The landmark Jewish museum in Poland’s capital retained its independence and can carry on with its mission now that a new director is in place after a year-long stalemate with the government.

The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews emerged from leaderless limbo after Poland’s Culture Ministry approved naming former deputy director Zygmunt Stepinski to a three-year term as director.

Stepinski said that he will focus on developing the Warsaw museum’s potential. The impasse over its director led private donors to freeze some funds, raising questions about its prospects.

The institution opened in 2014 as a joint project of a private Jewish historical association, the city of Warsaw and the Culture Ministry.

A joint commission agreed to extend the term of the previous director, Dariusz Stola, but Culture Minister Piotr Glinski refused to sign off on the extension.

The culture ministry was at times unhappy with the way Stola ran the museum.

An exhibition about the 1968 “anti-Zionist campaign” orchestrated by the ruling communists that pushed Jews out of their jobs and drove many out of the country, for example, was particularly unpopular with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).

Members of PiS said the exhibition made it seem Poles played “a bigger role in the expulsion of Jews than they did in reality”. It also included antisemitic quotes from individuals linked to the ruling party.Stola joined other former museum directors who had complained of excessive political interference since PiS came to power in 2015.

Piotr Wislicki, the head of the private Association of the Jewish Historical Institute, said that the appointment protects the museum from outside pressure and gives it a new impulse. “We have defended the museum’s independence, and we are sure it will stay that way,” Wislicki said.

The museum showcases the 1,000-year Jewish presence in Polish lands and is one of the country’s most-visited museums.

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