The POLIN Museum's collection policy

In 2021, out of concern for the development of our collection, we have prepared the POLIN Museum's collection policy. The document, approved by the Director of the Museum, sets out the directions for expanding the collection and the priorities we follow in our daily work. It also describes the structure of our collection and its diverse nature, the purpose of which is to preserve and commemorate the heritage of Polish Jews. We encourage you to get familiar with our collection policy! A summary of the policy can be found below.

POLIN Museum collection

The origins of the POLIN Museum's collection date back to 1998, when the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland began collecting museum exhibits and archives with a view to creating the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. We developed the collection a few years later - thanks to the Souvenir Collection Programme launched in 2006, formally implemented by the newly established Museum. The programme, announced at the Ohel (an art installation and meeting place in Muranów, located next to the future building of the Museum), was a response to the need to save the last traces of the pre-war Jewish presence in Poland and to collect objects for the Core Exhibition of the Museum. A large collection of personal memorabilia has been created, supplemented with reports of the Museum's donors. Those stories provide a context for the donated items - they allow contemporary viewers to imagine what the everyday life of people who used the objects looked like.

In 2007 and 2009, the Polish Righteous and Virtual Shtetl, knowledge portals were created, thanks to which we started developing the digital collection of the POLIN Museum. We created, among other things, the first oral history reports and we started gathering resources for historical portals. A library was created for the needs of the curatorial team of the Core Exhibition.

Currently, the POLIN Museum's collection consists of the museum collection (over 6,000 items), the archival collection (over 6,500 items), the digital collection (several hundred historical studies, over 1,000 oral history reports, 70,000 photographs documenting material heritage, 362,000 archival iconographies) and the library collection (15,000 items ). Our online collection is viewed by 1,200,000 visitors per year.

The POLIN Museum's collection implements the statutory objectives and the mission of the Museum - saving, restoring and protecting the memory of Polish Jews. At the same time, the Museum supports the creation of a strong community of donors, witnesses to history and a permanent audience of the Museum. Since 2021, the POLIN Museum has had the "Collection policy" introduced by the Ordinance of the Director. The document systematises knowledge about the collection to date, and sets priorities for its further development.

Collection priorities, characteristics of the collection

Among the Museum's exhibits, there are: Judaica, works of art, historical items (personal and historical memorabilia) and movable archaeological artefacts (e.g. objects from the areas of the former ghetto, fragments of synagogue objects).

We collect works of art from the 19th and 20th centuries as well as contemporary works of art that refer to the heritage of Polish Jews through the biography of the authors - e.g. works by Roman Kramsztyk, Marek Szwarc, Franciszka Themerson, Ewa Kuryluk, Elżbieta Nadel, and through the subject, e.g. works by Wilhelm Sasnal, Jadwiga Sawicka or Hubert Czerepok.  The collection of original comic strips is a unique one in Poland - it shows the way of addressing Jewish issues and Polish-Jewish relations in the art of comics in recent years in Poland and around the world, e.g., works by Krzysztof Gawronkiewicz, Rutu Modan and Iwona Chmielewska. Artistic photographs documenting the life of Polish Jews (works by Krzysztof Gierałtowski, Chuck Fishmana) or the memory about them (photographs by Tadeusz Rolke, Wojciech Wilczyk) are also collected by the Museum. Our main goal is to complete the collection of works of art so that it represents the works of authors who are recognised both in Poland and around the world, and the theme is Jewish culture, Jewish identity and Polish-Jewish relations.

The Museum also collects objects related to Jewish rituals and traditions (parokheth, tallit, herb containers, pointers) and also special items, testimonies of the desecration of objects: items made from Torah scrolls or matzevot.

Particularly noteworthy are the thematic collections of archives and historical objects that document the fate of Polish Jews in the ghettos during World War II, in the USSR, related to March ’68 and extensive personal archives that consist of photographs, personal documents, manuscripts, letters - that constitute the  testimony of Jewish life in Poland from the 19th century to the present day. They are unique as they relate to the history of individual families or people associated with the community of Polish Jews. The collections include objects related to, e.g., people and families acknowledged in the history of Jewish culture (including the Kramsztyk, Kuryluk, Natanson, and Dichter families) and lesser-known figures, such as Ryszard Rozental and Marian Rzędowski.

The collections of personal nature are often supplemented by oral history interviews with accompanying documentation in a digital form (apart from interviews those are, for example, photographs and documents from the family archives of our interlocutors and photographic portraits of the interlocutors). The interviews also constitute a separate set in the collection of the Museum.  Chronologically, the first interviews were those with the Polish Righteous Among the Nations (300 reports), Jews who survived the Holocaust (80), Museum donors (140) and emigrants of March '68 (160 reports).

Given the history of creating the collection so far, the substantive objectives of the "Collection policy", our programme ambitions and the gaps identified during the verification of the collection, we have distinguished three main priorities for museum and archival collections for the period 2021-2026: historical and personal memorabilia and archival materials related to the life of the Jewish community in Poland, works of contemporary art after 1945, with a particular focus on recent art after 1989, created by Polish and Jewish artists associated with Poland, and works by representative Jewish artists from the second half of the 19th century to 1945, which can complement the permanent exhibition.

In terms of the digital collection in the oral history collection, our goal is primarily to document the biographies of the representatives of various Jewish communities in Poland here and now, of all generations, including the leaders of those communities; the accompanying objectives are documentation of the remembrance of the Holocaust of Polish Jews and practices related to commemorating the Holocaust in the public sphere as well as documentation of the actions of activists for the preservation of the heritage of Polish Jews. We try to maintain the documentation in accordance with the principle of synergy with other programme undertakings of the Museum, such as modifications to the Core Exhibition, new temporary exhibitions, and the POLIN Museum award gala.

Slightly different rules apply the priorities for the development of the stock of historical studies and visual documentation in the digital collection - those are primarily related to the publishing policies of the online knowledge portals and the annual publishing plans.  And so, for the Virtual Shtetl portal, we distinguish such objectives as editing and supplementing the collection of the history of the Polish Jewish community, with particular emphasis on institutions functioning in the interwar period, characterised in various types of official registers (industry, schools, hospitals, etc.). We continue adding biographies, especially of females, we also carry out an extensive programme of describing Jewish cemeteries within the borders of present-day Poland (in cooperation with the National Institute of Cultural Heritage).

In the illustrative part of the portal, we mainly use photographs from the Polish Roots in Israel collection (ultimately several thousand photos acquired in the years 2006–2008) that present Jewish life in various historical regions of Poland, and from the collection of visual documentation of the material heritage of Polish Jews from cities and towns located in historical borders of Poland. We have been creating and developing this collection since 2016. Those are photos of monuments and places of remembrance and the Holocaust, e.g. synagogues in former Hasidic centres, unique wooden synagogues in Pokrój, Rzeżyca and Lucyn, Jewish monuments in the former Königsberg and the Königsberg enclave, shots of the extermination centres of Jews taken with the use of a drone.

Separate priorities concern historical studies on the subject of the Holocaust, especially in the context of the development of historiographical studies of the Polish Righteousportal. We have completed the stage of active documentation of the reports of direct witnesses to history for the purpose of developing the history of Poles helping Jews during the Holocaust, based on various archival sources. We are supplementing our collection with studies showing the fate of the inhabitants of the Polish province, especially in regions poorly explored in that respect so far - the Eastern Borderlands, Upper Silesia, Greater Poland and the area around Łódź. The history of help is developed in the spirit of micro-history: we show general historical trends and phenomena through the prism of the individual or small social groups, we focus on everyday practices and forms of social interaction.

We believe that reliable education about the Polish Righteous requires good knowledge about the Holocaust, which is why we supplement our collection with monographs that allow presenting the stories of help against the background of the socio-political context of the German occupation in Poland, taking into account the complexity and diversity of the attitude of Poles towards the Holocaust. We show this multidimensional history as "alive" and significant for the present day, we believe in the potential of the universal understanding of the experience of the Holocaust.

In terms of the library collection, our priority is to build up the collection of the latest publications on the history of Polish Jews, with a particular focus on English-language items. The Museum Library cooperates with the Library of the Jewish Historical Institute. Considering the rich book collection of that institution, the POLIN Museum does not systematically supplement its collection with books available on the antique market. The exceptions are items for the Permanent Exhibition and temporary exhibitions, as well as purchases to replace damaged copies of books. The library of the POLIN Museum is to be a supplementary book collection to that of the Jewish Historical Institute, not a duplication of its character.

Ways of acquiring items and financing the collection, ethical basis, organisation of works

With a view to building long-term relationships with the Museum donors, witnesses to history or sellers and collectors, we develop the collection, depending on the type of collection, using different methods of acquisition: donation, purchase, deposits, legacy, interlibrary exchange, digital records, court rulings or decisions of other competent authorities.

The decision on the allocation of funds for the purchase of items for the collection is taken by the Director, after hearing the recommendations of the Deputy Director for Programming responsible for the development of the collection, the Acquisition Commission, the Head of the Collection Department (in the field of exhibits and archives), the Head of the Resource Centre (in the field of the digital collection) or the Head of the Scientific Department (in the field of the library collection).

Taking financing of purchases into account, the main directions of development are supplementing the Museum's collection with exhibits, archival or library objects to enrich the Permanent Exhibition (as substitutes for borrowed objects or copies), and then, obtaining items for the collection in accordance with the priorities set out in the "Collection policy". The priorities related to supplementing the Permanent Exhibition with original collections are determined by the Historical Commission in consultation with the Chief Curator of the Permanent Exhibition and the Head of the Exhibition Department.

The funds for the development and supplementation of the collection come from the Museum's own resources (including the resources obtained as part of business activity in accordance with Art.18 of the Museum's statute); from the resources of the entities in charge of establishing the Museum (Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Warsaw City Council, Association of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland), targeted grants, grant competitions, donations from strategic and corporate partners, donations from private individuals, public money collection.

At the Museum, we exercise due diligence to obtain items with proper documentation of the acquisition; therefore, we reject any offers that are the subject matter of illegal sale or if there is a suspicion that the circumstances of the acquisition of the items might involve non-compliance with relevant ethical and legal procedures.

We do not collect human remains or other biological material in the Museum. If it is necessary to obtain them in the future, the Museum will make every effort to collect and store them with the utmost care and due respect.

At the Museum, we collect items of particular religious value, such as pieces of Torah or matzevot, to a limited extent. Pieces of Torah (apart from items with display potential or significant historical value) are handed over to local Jewish communities for ritual burial in accordance with the tradition recorded in the Book of the Prophets. Pieces of matzevot (apart from objects of significant historical value) are not collected in the Museum - potential donors of such items are directed to the management of Jewish cemeteries located closest to where they were found or to lapidaries based at Jewish cemeteries.

At the POLIN Museum, we collect testimonies of anti-Semitism – items that confirm anti-Semitic activities, views and attitudes or repression against Jews. However, we do not allow the possibility of purchasing anti-Semitic objects.

Sharing the collection

The collection is available for research and exhibition purposes, for employees of museums, archives and other cultural institution and is presented to the general public at the Permanent Exhibition, temporary exhibitions, in the form of regular displays of own collection, at the Historical Information Centre, the Educational Centre, in the form of publications and different popularising activities on the Internet (e.g. Virtual Shtetl, the Polish Righteous, oral history channel Oral History / POLIN Museum's collection). Currently, the Museum team is working on an Internet portal to present the POLIN Museum's collection in all its diversity, in a systematic way.