In recent art world news, Poland’s Museum of the Second World War, said to be the “most comprehensive public exhibition in Europe about the greatest cataclysm of the 20th century,” opened last month. The new museum, situated in the seaside city of Gdansk, has drawn around 14,000 visitors in its first two weeks of being open. Among those in attendance included former prisoners of German Nazi concentration camps and Soviet labor camps.
Earlier this week, Poland’s Supreme Administrative Court cleared the path for the country’s right-wing government, which came to power in 2015, to take control of the museum and merge it with a smaller, yet to be built museum that would take a more narrow focus on the conflict and provide a nationalistic perspective. It is believed that the merger will likely result in the dismissal of the museum’s director, historian Pawel Machcewicz.
Controversy surrounding the new museum has been occurring for months, but the Polish Court’s decision this week is a strong signal that the government will get its way. According to the country’s culture ministry, the merger is effective immediately.
Under Machcewicz’s direction, the new museum’s permanent exhibition spanning three floors offers an “expansive and international view of the conflict, focusing on the wartime experiences of civilians in Poland and Eastern Europe, which suffered from both Nazi and Soviet repression.”
The country’s right-wing government, however, argues that the new museum does not give enough focus on the Polish perspective. Poland’s culture minister would like to absorb the museum within a planned institution dedicated to the Battle of Westerplatte, which was the first battle of the war in September 1939, when Germany began its invasion of Poland. The institution would focus on the “Polish narrative of sacrifice and suffering, and take what skeptics see as a more nationalistic perspective.”
The museum’s permanent exhibition has received enthusiastic reviews from around the world, including from international museum experts, journalists and historians.
Although Machcewicz is uncertain what the culture ministry will do about the permanent exhibition, he expressed hope that the culture minister would keep the exhibition in its present form and “[l]et tourists from all around the world judge the exhibition first[.]”
For further information on Poland’s Museum of the Second World War and its mission and purpose, see the museum’s website.