There is no history of Poland without the history of the Jews, Junczyk-Ziomecka, the Polish consul general in New York, quoted him as saying. But he set a priority first to build a museum to commemorate the Warsaw uprising, which occurred in 1944 and which, under post-World War II communist rule was a taboo subject. That museum is an enormous success, attracting a half-million visitors a year similar to the predictions for the new Jewish museum.
Kachinski, who died in a plane crash in 2010, set up a public-private partnership under which the city and national governments contributed the cost of the building, some $60 million, and had Jewish leaders raise from private sources the $40 million needed for the exhibits.
Although Poland today has a tiny number of Jews, interest in Jewish history and culture is on the rise, according to Rolat, who chairs annual music festivals in Warsaw and Krakow that draw tens of thousands of Poles, almost all Roman Catholics. He speaks of a great renaissance of Jewishness and contrasts Polish attitudes to anti-Semitic incidents in France and other countries.
Rolat, whos 82, was born in Czestochowa, a major pilgrimage site for Polish Catholics, and spent his early teens in the Hasaj concentration camp in that same town. He lives in New York but says he feels completely comfortable visiting his birthplace now.
It has long been the most Catholic city in Poland, but on the whole, the relationship between Jewish Poles and Catholic Poles has been good, he said. I feel very safe walking the streets of my native Czestochowa, and here.
McClatchy special correspondent Barbara Dziedzic contributed to this report.