House Passes Smith Holocaust Education & Historical Preservation Bill
Bill authorizes support for Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) to expand Holocaust education and preserve the culture of Polish Jewry overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives today.
"Before the onset of World War II, the largest Jewish population in Europe lived in Poland. Over 50 percent of world Jewry has family ties to this prewar community. Tragically, as a result of the Holocaust, a once thriving community was virtually decimated. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews will help preserve this culture for future generations. Visitors will learn about the rich history of Polish Jewry, and see in a vivid way some of what humanity lost in the Holocaust," said Smith.
Smith added, "Today, we know that despite the efforts of many good people, anti-Semitism is a dangerous and 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 will foster a better understanding of the great contributions that Polish Jews have made to their communities and will help fight off the ignorance and lies that bring about bigotry."
Smith's bill, the "Support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews Act of 2007" (H.R. 3320) authorizes $5 million in U.S. support for the development of the permanent collection of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
In 1996, a group of people conceived the idea for a museum dedicated to the culture, art, and history of Poland's Jews. A year later, the city of Warsaw donated land, adjacent to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument for the construction of this Museum and in June 2007, ground was broken on the project. The Government of Poland and City of Warsaw have each agreed to provide 40,000,000 Polish zlotys (approximately $12,500,000) for the Museum. A number of private corporations and individuals from many different countries have also agreed to contribute.
"The goal is to create a museum that celebrates the 1,000 years of Polish Jewish life, as well as commemorate the three million Polish Jews who died in World War II. It will serve as a living educational center in the heart of Europe-the place where the Nazis put so many Jews to deaththat will contribute to combating anti-Semitism," Smith said.
The Museum will measure 140,000 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 and 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. 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.
"A key element of the museum is the 5,400 square-foot, state-of-the-art education center that includes a resource center for visitors and access to a reading room and library," Smith said. "This component will be an important way to reach and educate the public."
Internationally, Smith has been working to urge countries to adopt and replicate Holocaust education and awareness campaigns. In the 104th Congress, Smith offered an amendment that became law that created an office to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, established a US Special Envoy to head our global anti-Semitism efforts and required annual reporting on international incidents of anti-Semitism.
As the former Chairman of the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission) and now as its ranking republican, Smith has made Holocaust education a key part of the platform regularly considered by the representatives from around the world to the 56 member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Most recently, Smith served as co-chair of the US delegation to the Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding, a follow-up to the OSCE's previous conferences on anti-Semitism that Smith helped establish.
"Regrettably, anti-Semitism has seen a resurgence on the world stage an outraged capped by the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, has held two Holocaust denial conferences in Tehran in just one year. We must use every available platformfrom international conferences for lawmakers to museum to document and educate young and old alike about the lives lost in the Holocaustto fight the scourge of anti-Semitism," Smith said.