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Public Statements

Support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews Act of 2007

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

SUPPORT FOR THE MUSEUM OF THE HISTORY OF POLISH JEWS ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - November 13, 2007)

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend and colleague Mr. Bilirakis for yielding and Chairman Faleomavaega for his very strong words in support of this legislation; Tom Lantos, the chairman of our committee; and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who were very strong supporters and backers of the bill before us today as well.

Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of World War II, Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe. Over 50 percent of world Jewry has family ties to this pre-war community. Tragically, as a result of the Holocaust, a once thriving community was virtually destroyed.

In 1996, a group of people developed the idea for a museum dedicated to the culture, art and history of Poland's Jews. As one of the founders of the museum told me when I visited Warsaw a couple of years ago, We often learn how Jews died, but rarely how they lived. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews will change this. Indeed, it will solemnly remember the 3 million Polish Jews who died during the Holocaust and World War II, but also it will celebrate the rich 1,000 years of Polish Jewish life.

The interactive museum will allow visitors to view the long history of Jews in Poland in context, examining their lives through nine thematic galleries that illustrate their culture, their accomplishments, and the challenges they faced. The museum will measure 14,000 square feet and incorporate state-of-the-art multimedia installations that showcase the museum's collection, an archive of over 60,000 computer files of images collected from around the world. The nine galleries that house the museum's core exhibition provide 43,000 square feet of space that will be equipped with the latest technology to showcase a variety of multimedia displays. These exhibitions are being developed by a team of scholars, historians and museum experts from Poland, Israel, and the United States.

A crown jewel of the museum and a key element to serving the public will be the 5,400 square-foot state-of-the-art education center that includes a resource center for visitors. Multimedia displays and Web-based kiosks will share the museum's data base of 60,000 documents and objects with visitors, who will also have access to a reading room as well as a library.

Today, Mr. Speaker, despite the robust efforts of many good people, anti-Semitism remains a dangerous and a growing force in Europe and elsewhere in the world. By looking at the life of Polish Jewry and also documenting the events of the Holocaust, the museum and its educational center will make a major contribution in combating anti-Semitism. A better understanding of the great contributions that Polish Jews have made to society will help fight off the ignorance and the lies that bring about this bigotry.

There is no better time for a living monument to stand against anti-Semitism than now, and no better place than in the heart of Europe, the place where the Nazis put so many Jews to death. In 1997, the City of Warsaw donated land adjacent to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument for the construction of this museum. In June of 2007, authorities broke ground for its construction. It is now slated for opening in 2010, but there still is a significant deficit in funding.

It is one of the first institutions in post-European Poland to be built through a partnership of public and private support. The Government of Poland and the City of Warsaw have each designated some $15 million for the museum, and a number of private corporations and individuals from Israel, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, of course that includes the United States, have also agreed to contribute. Just yesterday, the Government of Germany signed an agreement to donate over $7 million to the effort. All donors are united in preserving the memory of a magnificent people, who have made such a positive difference, and to combat the rising ugly tide of anti-Semitism.

As you can imagine, it's a costly and difficult project to assemble artifacts and memorabilia from Polish Jewry. Not only did the Nazis systematically destroy Jewish men, women and children, they sought to erase all memory of a noble people. The Nazis also decimated most of the City of Warsaw. Our contribution of $5 million will be more than just a symbol of American commitment to these principles, although that is important. It will be more than a reminder of the historical ties that bind many descendants of Polish Jews in the United States and elsewhere to Polish Jewry, although that, too, is a worthy goal. This contribution will be an important aid in making this project a reality. It will help bring it to completion.

I urge support for H.R. 3320. As one supporter called this, this is a ``restitution of memory.''

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