By Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Olga Gershenson
Today, post-communist Europe is experiencing a museum boom as countries try to consolidate a collective identity in museums that tell their nation’s story in a way that was not possible under communism. Jewish museums and Holocaust memorials offer not only histories of Jewish communities in a given town or country, but also a perspective on the place of those communities within a larger national history and a country’s self-understanding. For decades, in the public sphere, the subject of Jewish history and memory was largely off-limits in the Eastern bloc. In the last 25 years, however, since the fall of communism, there has been a revival of public Jewish culture and institutions in Central and Eastern Europe as well as in the former Soviet Union (FSU). New museums, memorials, and education centers are an important part of this trend. This special issue is dedicated to this phenomenon, first charting a map of new Jewish museums throughout post-communist Europe, and then attempting to draw some analytical conclusions about the place and meaning of such museums.
Projects such as the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which opened in 2012, and POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, which opened in 2013, are ambitious. They are multi-million-dollar endeavors with money raised from both private and public funds. Both museums were initiated and supported not only by local and international Jewish donors, but also by non-Jewish benefactors, foundations, corporations, and local and national state authorities. Their core exhibitions, relying on the expertise of both local and international academics and designers, offer affecting multimedia narrative exhibitions. Although not located in historic buildings connected to the local Jewish communities, these two museums present the full sweep of Jewish history in a given place, including the Holocaust and postwar period. In the short time since their establishment, these two museums have become part of an international museum scene, with 85,000 visitors in 2014 to Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, and a staggering 300,000 visitors to POLIN Museum during the first six months that the core exhibition was open.