The Monument is a dilemma

The Monument Initiative

The idea to dedicate a monument in Warsaw to the commemoration of the Polish Righteous gentiles was first presented by Children of the Holocaust, a Warsaw-based association of individuals who survived the Shoah as children, many of them with the help of Righteous gentiles[1]. The idea was then adopted and promoted by Sigmund Rolat, a Polish-American philanthropist and Shoah survivor who has been very engaged in commemoration activities in Poland during the last years. He announced he himself would donate and fundraise money to cover the costs of the monument. His initiative received the support by the then-president of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski. However, it also faced strong criticism from Jewish-Polish intellectuals due to its envisioned location in the district of Muranów, the former Warsaw Ghetto. Today this neighborhood is not only a residential area but also the focal point of Warsaw’s Holocaust commemoration landscape and the site of the much-heralded POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Rolat proclaimed that the monument was to be built in close proximity to the two memorials to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (built in 1946 by Leon Suzin and 1948 by Nathan Rapaport) and to the recently opened (2013) POLIN Museum. However, critics argued that the area should be reserved for the commemoration of Jewish suffering and moreover was already overburdened with non-Jewish monuments; Polish heroism should be commemorated elsewhere. Rolat, nevertheless, insisted on the location mainly for reasons of representation and attendance figures: “The location of a monument raised much controversy in our circles. I was convincing others that the monument, if it was erected somewhere else, would be visited only by a small group of museum visitors, maybe by every twentieth visitor, who would take the trouble to see it and learn about the righteous” [2].

monumentBut Rolat’s arguments were not perceived as convincing and many Jews of Polish descent from all over the world fought against the envisioned location: critical Facebook groups were launched, newspaper articles written, statements by intellectuals, rabbis and Jewish leaders were collected.[3]

Despite the criticism, in 2013 Rolat established the Remembrance and Future Foundation for the purpose of organizing a competition called “From Those You Saved”. It aimed to build a monument “to all the Poles who rescued Jews in German-occupied Poland”, located “in the Muranów district of Warsaw, Poland, in the vicinity of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews” [4]. But there was a catch, the title of the monument initiative was deceiving: “From Those You Saved” implies that there is a We, a community of survivors and descendants which desires to express their gratitude to the righteous gentiles. But this community does not exist, because the Jews who identify with the purpose of the monument are bitterly divided.

The Monument may be a Forest


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