Polish Jewish museum wins European Museum of the Year Award

POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews has been selected as the winner of the 2016 European Museum of the Year Award. The Warsaw-based museum was awarded the prize on 9 April at a ceremony in Donostia/San Sebastian, Basque Country/Spain. POLIN was selected from 49 nominees from 24 European countries.

Built on a site that once housed a vibrant Jewish community and later became the infamous Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi occupation, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews was founded in 2005 and officially opened its doors to the public in 2013. Its Core Exhibition, developed by over 120 scholars and opened in 2014, takes up over 4000 sq. m. and immerses visitors in the world of Polish Jews, from their arrival as traveling merchants in medieval times right up to the present day.

“The long-shared history between Jewish people and other people of this region of the world is one of a continuously negotiated co-existence through conflict as well as cooperation, integration and assimilation. For very large and very diverse audiences the POLIN now serves as an absorbing place to confront and examine the perpetually relevant questions of how a co-existence, however fraught, can suddenly transfigure into an absolute rupture, into the near eradication of a whole population and destruction of a culture.” Said the European Museum Forum, the body responsible for conferring the prize, in a statement.

Exterior of the POLIN museum in Warsaw

The European Museum of the Year Awards (EMYA) were founded in 1977 under the auspices of the Council of Europe to recognise excellence in the European museum scene and encourage innovative processes in the museum world. As well as the main EMYA award, three further prizes are awarded annually: The Council of Europe Museum Prize, the Kenneth Hudson Award, and the Silletto Prize.

POLIN was not the only Polish museum to be honoured at this year’s awards. At the same ceremony, the Council of Europe Museum Prize 2016 was awarded to European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk. Officially opened in 2014, this museum was established to commemorate and promote the acheivements of the Polish Solidarity (Solidarność) trade union movement, as well as to “share the achievements of the peaceful struggle for freedom, justice, democracy and human rights with those who are deprived of them.” Speaking on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Vesna Marjanovic described the museum as: “a fascinating example of a cultural institution working to promote freedom and solidarity […] Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, thoughts are returning of building new walls. The European Solidarity Centre’s aim is to provide factual back-up for organisations working for the common good, freedom and human rights.”