WARSAW -- Poland is hoping for an image makeover today as it marks the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising with the unofficial opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
The 140,000-square-foot building sits on the historical site of the Warsaw Ghetto, amid gray apartment blocks built using rubble left over from the destruction of Europe's biggest Jewish neighborhood during World War II.
"This museum will be a major bridge between Poland and Israel," Nili Amit, who handles relations between the two countries at the museum, said last week. "People from all over the world will love it."
Poland's role in the Holocaust is often miscast by global media, prompting criticism from Warsaw. About 6 million Jews were killed during World War II as Germany's Nazis ran a campaign across Europe that included random executions, plunder and death camps, many of them set up in occupied Poland.
By showing the coexistence of the two peoples through the centuries, the new museum will attempt to change Poland's image as the home of camps, including the biggest one in Auschwitz.
The Jewish population in Poland grew to 3.3 million before World War II. About 90 percent of them perished in the Holocaust. The rest left the country after the war, in part due to communist-era persecutions.
The museum will run temporary displays, film screenings and educational workshops until the permanent exhibition's grand opening, featuring the history of Jews in Poland since the Middle Ages. That is planned for the early next year, according to Piotr Kossobudzki, a spokesman.
The museum's exterior features glass panels with the patterns of the word "Po-lin" in Hebrew and Latin. It refers to a myth of the first Jewish settlers fleeing persecutions in Western Europe in the 13th century. They settled in Poland after hearing a divine voice in the wood telling them "Po-lin," which means "you should rest here" in Hebrew.
About 30,000 Israeli students visit Poland annually, according to Israel's Education Ministry. The ministry wants to "integrate the museum" into the schedule of those trips, Ms. Amit said.
As Warsaw commemorates the victims of the uprising, more than 400 volunteers will hand out daffodil badges today. Jews made up one-third of the capital's population before the war. Marek Edelmann, the last surviving leader of the ghetto uprising before his death in 2009, laid daffodils at the monument to the uprising heroes that is in front of the museum.
The uprising began on April 19, 1943, as Nazis attempted to wipe out the remainder of Jews living in the ghetto in time for Hitler's birthday the next day. The Germans, facing fighting groups and inhabitants barricaded in bunkers, began systematically burning down the ghetto. For almost a month, the Jewish fighters battled the Germans in what was the first popular uprising in a city in Nazi-occupied Europe.