JNS.org – June 28 will mark the start of the 23rd annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland, whose closing event is a concert that routinely draws 20,000-25,000 people and exemplifies the re-emerging broad appeal of Jewish culture in a country that was home to 3 million Jews who died during the Holocaust.
“Probably less than 10 percent of the people that are at that concert are Jewish,” San Francisco-based and Poland-born philanthropist Tad Taube tells JNS.org.
But now, the Jewish Culture Festival is not alone as a symbol of Poland’s Jewish renaissance. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews—for which two foundations Taube heads, the Koret Foundation and Taube Philanthropies, have made commitments of $16 million in total—opened to visitors this April in Warsaw and according to Taube is beginning to deliver the message that “1,000 years of Jewish history serve as the underpinnings of our own Judeo-Christian Western culture.” Much like the Jewish Culture Festival, Taube expects the museum to appeal to audiences well beyond the Jewish community. After it opened in April, the museum saw 15,000 visitors in its first three days and 45,000 in its first month.
“I think our studies right now show that we’re going to have in excess of a million people a year visiting the museum, and probably no more than 200,000 would be Jewish,” Taube says. “So it’s going to be a major global attraction. And the [attendance] model that we have is something that exists already, which is the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow.”
Taube recalls a conversation he once had a Polish consular official who noted, “In 1939, the population of Poland was 35 million, and roughly 10 percent of that population was Jewish, but the contribution to Polish culture was probably more like 75 percent. So, when the Nazis murdered the Jews, it was as if Polish culture had been amputated.”
The consulate official’s point is why Taube believes Polish culture at large—not just Polish-Jewish culture—is being revived through the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Taube says the “unfortunate aspect of modern thinking about the Holocaust” is that it “tends to obscure a great culture that existed for a millennium in Poland, and which had an enormous influence on Western culture.” While the Holocaust occurred in a relatively short time frame, Jewish history and culture in Poland goes back 1,000 years.
“[The Jewish community] brought to Poland a great deal of art, music, theater, literature, philosophy, law, charity, family values, community values—all of the things that are embraced today as part of Judeo-Christian Western culture, and it brought those [elements] to Poland and to Jews as well as mostly non-Jews, because the Jewish population in Poland was always the minority, although a very large minority,” Taube says.