Polish museum backers hope groundbreaking boosts fundraising

prague | Supporters and staff of a new museum on Polish Jewry are hoping a high-profile groundbreaking ceremony will draw in the additional funds needed to finish what aims to be Europe’s largest Jewish cultural attraction under one roof.

The June 26 groundbreaking at the site in Warsaw where the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is scheduled to open in 2009.

The Polish government was an early champion of the museum, providing $27 million in funding from federal as well as city coffers, and promises to handle 95 percent of the museum’s operating expenses.

The city of Warsaw provided land for the five-story, 200,000-square-foot structure designed by a Finnish architectural team. Last year, the German government donated $6.31 million for the museum. But the museum still needs $10 million to $15 million to support its permanent galleries.

“This is more than just a groundbreaking and much more than just a ceremony,” said Tad Taube, the Polish-born philanthropist who lives in the South Bay.

“It is, in the presence of Israel’s president, a vivid reminder of the rich history of Poland’s Jewish community and a celebration of its renaissance,” said Taube, a major contributor to the museum.

The Belmont-based Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture is a chief supporter of a Jewish revival in Poland, where some 10,000 Jews live. Many of them have only recently discovered their Jewish roots.

Prior to World War II, Poland had the largest number of Jews in Europe, about 3.5 million, or 10 percent of the population. Most were killed by the Nazis.

“I think this is a seminal event for Jews everywhere. Here’s a country that, for a long time, has carried the stigma of having this horrendous murder of men, women and children that was unprecedented in history, a country that, itself, had serious problems with anti-Semitism,” said Taube.

“Poland is now among the closest allies to the state of Israel and it spawned 70 percent of American Jews. It’s one of the major countries of Europe economically and population-wise. So [this groundbreaking] is huge.”

The event will feature a speech by newly elected Israeli President Shimon Peres, a native of Poland and an early supporter of the $65 million museum, where visitors in eight galleries will be able to explore the 1,000-year history of Polish Jewry.

President Lech Kacynski will also speak at the ceremony, which will feature performances by the Vienna Philharmonic and the Choir of Polish National Opera.

The museum is located next to the Ghetto Heroes’ Memorial monument in what once was Warsaw’s Jewish district. Its key message is about life, not death, in a country where the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are the two issues many foreign tourists most associate with Jews. One reason Polish leaders are so enthusiastic about the museum is the movement away from that trend.

Calculating that 50 percent to 75 percent of the world’s Jews trace their ancestry to Poland, museum officials estimate that some 500,000 visitors will visit the museum annually.