Museum of the History of Polish Jews Opens in Warsaw with Trinity Connections

Faculty Member and Alumna Play Major Roles in Museum's Success

Hartford, CT, January 23, 2015 – For generations, many Jews viewed Poland as simply a place of death: the home of concentration camps and a once vibrant Jewish community sent into hiding or across its borders. Today, though, Jewish life in Poland is being revived, and a museum celebrating its colorful history recently opened to rave reviews with important contributions from members of the Trinity community.

Samuel Kassow ’66, Charles H. Northam Professor of History, served as a lead historian for two of the museum’s eight galleries: “Encounters in Modernity” and “On the Jewish Street,” the latter covering the interwar period, Kassow’s area of expertise. Designing a museum exhibit was an entirely new experience for Kassow, whose scholarship has previously consisted of traditional research and publishing.

It was a “very complex planning process,” said Kassow, who joined the project in 2006. In the years since, he’s made “many, many trips to Poland” as the museum took shape on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. The striking building was designed by Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki.

Samuel Kassow ’66, Charles H. Northam Professor of History, with Lisa Kassow and Shana Penn '77 at the opening of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
 The museum’s Trinity ties continue beyond Kassow’s role as a leading academic. Shana Penn ’77 is the executive director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, a major patron of the museum. Penn wrote a piece for Krytyka Polityczna about how the museum’s opening challenged stigmas about Jewish life in Poland.

“I have been heartened to learn that people can discard their negative stereotypes when given the opportunities to do so in a country that has been confronting its own prejudices and misconceptions,” she wrote. “[The museum’s grand opening] marks the moment when we realize the stigmas have loosened their hold on us.”

Lisa Kassow, director of Trinity College Hillel, has also been active at Trinity in exploring the topic of Jewish life in Poland. During 2014’s spring break, she led a group of 12 Trinity students on a trip to Poland. In addition to visiting the sites of Nazi concentration camps, they also explored the facets of Poland that demonstrate a rebirth of Jewish life. Sophie Katzman ’14 reflected in the Jewish Journal of Massachusetts magazine about the experience, and Lisa Kassow also published a recent article about Jewish life in Poland in eJewish Philanthropy.

“Jewish life in Warsaw is being created anew,” said Lisa Kassow, pointing to the recent opening of a Jewish day school and a vibrant Jewish community center. She hopes to continue building Trinity’s relationship with Jewish community organizations in Poland.

The museum is just the latest of Sam Kassow’s remarkable scholarly achievements. His 2007 book, Who Will Write Our History?, is set to be adapted for the screen by director Roberta Grossman and executive producer Nancy Spielberg. Kassow is also in the process of completing a highly anticipated book called Listen and Believe: The Ghetto Reportage of Peretz Opoczynski and Jozeph Zelkowicz, to be released this year by Yale University Press.