Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk: Memory culture and political interests

The story of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk epitomizes one of the most important and dramatic clashes in the European culture of memory and public history in last decades. In Poland, the museum became the archenemy for the nationalist right-wing as “cosmopolitan”, “pseudo-universalistic”, “pacifistic” and “not Polish enough”.

Pawel Machcewicz, historian and the museum`s founding director, was removed from his position by the Law and Justice government immediately after opening the museum to the public.

In De Gruyter’s new publication, “The war that never ends. The Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk,” Pawel Machcewicz presents (t)his story as a part of cultural wars that are raging not only in Poland but also in other countries in Europe and on other continents.

The book shows how the idea of the museum initially arose from an article the author wrote in a daily newspaper, and what efforts it took to construct the museum itself, build the collections and start the exhibition in the midst of the uprising of Polish nationalism.

From the process of collection to its engagement with audiences, the Museum of World War II articulates a complex and thought-provoking example of what historian Michael Frisch has called “shared authority” where it was the active collaboration between historian, curator, museum worker and community than ended up challenging the agenda of the state.

This book is a crucial record and significant testament to the ambitious attempt to create a Museum of the Second World War.


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Eric Merkel-Sobotta

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