Monday, 17 October 2016




For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with history, especially the history of World War II. So, it is only suitable that for my inaugural contribution to Musings' “Walk of Fame," I pay tribute to my inexplicable passion and take a walk down memory lane. In 2013, I had the opportunity to travel through parts of Europe, in which one of my stops was Warsaw, Poland. I happened to be in Warsaw on the first of September for the 74th anniversary of the start of WWII (you can imagine, the history geek inside of me was hyperventilating).

While I was there, I visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum (a.k.a. Warsaw Rising Museum). Opened in 2004, the museum is dedicated to the operation led by the Polish Home Army between August and October 1944 against the occupying German forces in an attempt to liberate the city (there's a history lesson in one sentence). Now, as a Museum Studies student, I look back and appreciate my experience so much more! The museum is filled with a variety of historical and interactive objects about the Uprising, but also about life before and after the battle, covering Poland's immediate postwar occupation by the Soviets. The museum tower is one of its highlights, overlooking Freedom Park, where a memorial wall is erected engraved with the names of insurgents who died during the Uprising.

The Warsaw Uprising Museum's exterior, a former tram power station. Source
Most fascinating for me are the different sections of the museum that simulate life in Warsaw during WWII, such as displays of underground bunkers and city streets, while “battle sounds" play throughout the museum's speakers, transporting me back to the 1944 Uprising. Visitors did not need to follow a strict order while exploring the exhibits, which contributed to an “authentic" experience of the Uprising. Surrounded by brick walls and floors, observing objects such as uniforms and weapons, and hearing the sounds of weaponry and rubble gave a sense of chaos and anxiety, but led to an effective and memorable visit.

The small screen plays footage of the Warsaw Ghetto. Notice the incorporation of technology and objects with the brick wall. Photo: Julia Zungri

Clearly, I could go on and on about this museum. Instead, I'll describe three notable aspects of the museum that can be added to Musings' “Walk of Fame."

1. “Little Insurrectionist"

This image of a boy soldier is a national symbol in Poland, representing child soldiers who fought for the Uprising. The statue is one of the first objects visitors see and another is also located outside of the museum on a city street. A miniature figure is sold at museum and souvenir shops (I even picked one up myself). On the Uprising's anniversary, the city's monument is adorned with flowers and the Polish flag, often with the letters PW - an abbreviation for “Polish Army."

Statue of the “Little Insurrectionist." Photo: Julia Zungri

2. The Pianist

I'm sure we all remember the award-winning film, The Pianist, which told the true story of a Polish-Jew's experience who witnessed the Warsaw Ghetto and Warsaw Uprisings. This exhibit pays tribute to Władysław Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody) with a depiction of his hiding place in a war-torn apartment, looking onto the destruction in the streets. Although I watched the film when I was quite young, it helped spark my passion for learning about WWII and the Holocaust and my fascination with the ways popular culture and institutions depict these periods of history. Interestingly, the museum incorporates a great deal of Polish-Jewish history in regards to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and its connections to the Warsaw Uprising.

The photo in the frame is of Szpilman. The use of brick and rubble is common throughout the museum, contributing to its “authentic" appearance. Photo: Julia Zungri

3. Digital Reproduction (shout out to MSL2325!)

During my visit, I had the opportunity to watch a short video, “City of Ruins," in IMAX 3D, which showed a simulated version of a plane flying over Warsaw in 1945. Click here for the trailer (yes, trailer) of the video. As one of the last exhibits, I already explored the majority of the museum, learning about life before, during, and after the Uprising. With this knowledge (and emotional connection) in mind, viewing footage of the war's physical destruction to the city provided more than a sense of looking, but also of feeling.

The Warsaw Uprising is still very much commemorated by Polish citizens and embedded in Polish culture and history, as can be seen with videos of the city standing for a moment of silence on the first of every August, referred to as “W-hour." Here is a link to a video of 2014's W-hour (it'll surely give you the chills), in which you can see the Warsaw Uprising Museum (0:34) and the statue of the Little Insurrectionist (1:34).

From observing the museum and its visitors, I got a sense that this space is essential for people with a national, ancestral, and cultural connection to Poland's past. For someone interested in history and/or museums, this is an intriguing place to examine how a nation tries to remember a troubled past through a museum space. The Warsaw Uprising Museum does not tackle a topic that visitors would look upon with a smile, but it provides them with an explanation and a record of history. Sometimes, the latter is more needed than the former.

For all of you historical museum lovers, next stop: Warsaw?

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