Exhibiting Galicia: Problems of Interpretation and Other Reflections on the Permanent Exhibition at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków

Jonathan Webber


The purpose of this article is to offer a critical comment on the permanent exhibition of the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków. The exhibition is innovative in museological terms. It is not about the Jewish history of Galicia, nor is it arranged using conventional chronology, nor is it comprehensive. Rather it is divided into five sections, based on a five-part set of ideas, simple ideas intended to help visitors make sense of the complex realities surrounding the present-day situation of the Jewish heritage seventy-five years after the Holocaust. Let me now briefly outline how these five ideas are represented museologically, the five sections in which the exhibition is organized. The opening section directly presents the popular Jewish stereotype that post-Holocaust Poland is nothing but a vast Jewish graveyard. So this section of the exhibition consists entirely of the raw, shocking sight of desolation – for example, photos of ruined synagogues or ruined Jewish cemeteries. The 23 photos on show in this section include the appalling condition of the synagogue in Stary Dzików (a small town near the Ukrainian border) as it looked in the 1990s and of the devastated Jewish cemetery in Czarny Dunajec (a small town near the Slovak border) at that time. Emphasizing what has been lost by showing the Jewish past of Poland in ruins, and how in that sense the effects of the Holocaust on the built Jewish heritage are still visible, even today, is certainly a powerful and provocative way to begin an exhibition in a Jewish museum.

* An earlier version of this paper was originally presented as the opening keynote lecture at a three-day conference on “Jews in Galicia,” held at the Galicia Jewish Museum, Kraków, in September 2019.

Słowa kluczowe: Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków, museum, exhibition, Holocaust, photography

Bartosz, A. (2009), This Was the Tarnów Shtetl, in: M. Murzyn-Kupisz and J. Purchla (eds.), Reclaiming Memory: Urban Regeneration in the Historic Jewish Quarters of Central European Cities, Kraków: 343–62.

Bergman E., and J. Jagielski (1990), The Function of Synagogues in the PPR, 1988, in: A. Polonsky (ed.), Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry 5: 40–49.

Bergman E., and J. Jagielski (1996), Zachowane synagogi i domy modlitwy w Polsce: Katalog, Warszawa.

Bourdieu P. (1990), Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, trans. Shaun Whiteside, Cambridge.

Cherry R., and A. Orla-Bukowska (eds.), (2007), Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future, Lanham, MD.

Cooperman B.D., and R. Curiel, with photographs by G. Arici (1990), Il Ghetto di Venezia, Venezia.

Dylewski A. (2009), Zabytki żydowskie w Polsce, Bielsko-Biała.

Fishman C. (2019), Portret Żydów polskich / A Portrait of Polish Jews, 1975–2018, Kraków.

Geshuri M.S. (1959), Cantors and Cantorial Music in Krakow (Heb.), in: A. Bauminger, M. Busak, and N.M. Gelber (eds.), The Book of Kraków: An Ancestral Jewish Town (Heb.), Jerusalem: 344351.

Huener J. (2003), Auschwitz, Poland, and the Politics of Commemoration, 19451979, Athens, Ohio.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett B. (1998), Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, Berkeley, CA.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. (2014), “Theater of History,” in B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and A. Polonsky (eds.), Polin: 1000 Year History of Polish Jews, Warsaw: 19–35.

Legutko-Ołownia A. (2004), Kraków’s Kazimierz: Town of Partings and Returns, Kraków.

Ligocka R. (2002), The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir, trans. M. Bettauer Bembo, New York.

Murzyn-Kupisz M. (2009), Reclaiming Memory or Mass Consumption? Dilemmas in Rediscovering the Jewish Heritage of Kraków’s Kazimierz, in: M. Murzyn-Kupisz and J. Purchla (eds.), Reclaiming Memory: Urban Regeneration in the Historic Jewish Quarters of Central European Cities, Kraków: 363–96.

Oshry E. (1983), Responsa from the Holocaust, trans. Y. Leiman, New York.

Piper F. (1991). Estimating the Number of Deportees to and Victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp, Yad Vashem Studies 21: 49–103.

Rosenbaum I.J. (1976), The Holocaust and Halakhah, [Brooklyn, N.Y.] Ktav.

Sheramy R. (2007), From Auschwitz to Jerusalem: Re-enacting Jewish History on the March of the Living, Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry 19: 307–325.

Spector S. (ed.), (2001), The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, 3 vols., Jerusalem–New York.

Trunk I. (1979), Jewish Responses to Nazi Persecution: Collective and Individual Behavior in Extremis, New York.

Van Pelt R.J., and D. Dwork (1996), Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present, New Haven and London.

Vergo P. (ed.), (1989), The New Museology, London.

Webber J. (2009), with photographs by C. Schwarz, Rediscovering Traces of Memory: The Jewish Heritage of Polish Galicia, Oxford (for the Galicia Jewish Museum, Kraków).

Webber J. (2016), The Kingdom of Death as a Heritage Site: Making Sense of Auschwitz, in: W. Logan, M.N. Craith, and U. Kockel (eds.), A Companion to Heritage Studies, Malden, MA: 115–132.

Webber, J. (2018), with photographs by C. Schwarz and J. Francisco, Rediscovering Traces of Memory: The Jewish Heritage of Polish Galicia (second edition of Webber 2009), London (for the Galicia Jewish Museum, Kraków).

Webber J. (2020), Cultural Diplomacy in Holocaust Memory Work: A Polish Village Case Study, in: C. Schallié, H. Thorson, and A. Van Noord (eds.), After the Holocaust: Human Rights and Genocide Education in the Approaching Post-Witness Era, Regina, Saskatchewan: 261–88.

Young J.E. (1993), The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning, New Haven and London.

Zbroja B. (2007), Forgotten Heritage: The Architecture of Jewish Kraków, in: J. Purchla and A. Skotnicki (eds.), A World before a Catastrophe: Kraków’s Jews between the Wars (bilingual Polish–English edn.), Kraków: 43–52.

Zimmerman J.D. (ed.), (2003), Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and its Aftermath, New Brunswick, N. J.

Czasopismo ukazuje się w sposób ciągły on-line.
Pierwotną formą czasopisma jest wersja elektroniczna.