“Eyes wide shut”: On what there is and what cannot be seen in new Polish Second World War museums
Museums have always been political institutions. Owing to this engagement, they are not neutral and they should not claim objectivity. Facts and artefacts at an exhibition exemplify the assumed hypotheses. This means that visitors are objects of manipulation. In case of the Warsaw Rising Museum, which was the first narrative museum in Poland, World War II was a trial, which the first victim of the German aggression — the Polish nation en bloc — underwent successfully. Th at was a time of heroes who should be imitated. The decision about the rising was right, even though the capital and its population were annihilated as a result of it. In contrast, in the Museum of World War II in Gdańsk, the war was a tragedy for the whole humanity and a hecatomb of the civilian population, with the presentation of the history of Poland nation as just one of many. If there were heroic deeds, they were individual and exceptional. Heroism was not only combat. Survival was the aim.
This means that the first museum is about “men’s adventure”, which is fighting among faithful comrades — it’s a hymn of praise to the valour of the Poles under German occupation. The more innocent the victims, the higher the factor of heroism. By contrast, the other museum is a warning — every war is first of all a failure of humanity. These two interpretations of the events of World War II differ from each other as the target groups of both exhibitions are different. Supporters of the Warsaw Rising Museum do not accept the Museum of World War II and vice versa; they often voice opinions about something they did not have a chance or did not even feel like to see. These institutions are reflections of political disputes which divide Poles into supporters and opponents of certain historical policies which are pursued by making use of museums and in relation to them.