Poland urged to end ‘damaging’ impasse at Jewish museum


WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Two co-founders of a prominent Jewish history museum in Warsaw urged their third partner — the Polish government — to comply with an agreement to re-appoint the museum’s former director, arguing Thursday that a failure to do so threatens the museum and is damaging to Polish-Jewish relations.

A standoff over the leadership of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw has dragged on since May, when the museum’s former director, Dariusz Stola, won a competition to serve a second five-year term. Culture Minister Piotr Glinski has refused so far to reappoint Stola, saying that he was politically biased against Poland’s right-wing government.

In response, the city of Warsaw and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland demanded Thursday that the government reappoint Stola.

“We can no longer accept the situation in which one of the most important institutions of culture in Poland remains in a state of limbo,” the Warsaw mayor and the chairman of the board of the private Jewish historical association said in a joint statement.

A Culture Ministry spokeswoman countered Thursday that the situation at the museum “is stable and does not give rise to concern” under the acting director, Zygmunt Stepinski. Under museum statutes, an acting director can only serve for a year, and Stępinsk’s term will end in late February.

In their statement, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski and Piotr Wislicki, chairman of the board of the Jewish historical association, said that as that deadline approaches, the museum’s functioning is threatened and that international partners “find this impasse beyond comprehension.”

They also said that Culture Minister Piotr Glinski was failing to abide by an agreement to honor whoever won the competition, saying that the rules and members of the jury were selected and agreed on by all three partners.

But the ministry spokeswoman, Anna Pawlowska-Pojawa, insisted in a statement carried by the Polish state news agency that the final decision belongs to the culture minister. She said that the museum’s functioning “is not in any way endangered, and one also cannot speak of a crisis.”

Opened in 2013, the museum presents the nearly 1,000-year history of Jewish life in Poland and the Holocaust. “Polin” is a Hebrew word meaning “rest here,” and reflects the overall story of the Jewish life that flourished in Poland for many centuries until being nearly destroyed by Nazi Germany.

The museum is also a conference and educational center that hosts debates, films and other events. It has been visited by 3.75 million people since it opened in 2013, while nearly 2 million have visited the core exhibition, which opened in 2014.

Some 44% of visitors come from abroad, with the largest group of foreign visitors from Israel, followed by the United States.