Mr. FALEOMAVAEGA. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this bill and yield myself such time as I may consume.
First of all, I would like to commend and thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), my good friend and my colleague, for his sponsorship of this important legislation, and I also want to thank the distinguished gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the gentlewoman from Florida, our senior ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for their support of this legislation.
This bill that was introduced by my good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey, is a bill that seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of Poland's Jewish population. Mr. Speaker, the history of the Jewish people in Poland dates back over a millennium, when the country initially provided one of Europe's most tolerant homes for the Jewish people and housed one of the world's most vibrant Jewish communities. This tolerance waned from the 17th century onwards, as incidents of political and personal
anti-Semitism began to increase.
However, when Poland regained its independence in the early 20th century, its Jewish population remained one of the largest in the world. Indeed, in 1939, over 3 million of the Jewish people lived in Poland, comprising the largest Jewish population of any country in Europe. Mr. Speaker, this situation changed radically when the Nazis occupied Poland, as over 90 percent of Poland's Jewish population was brutally killed or murdered and tortured during the Holocaust. Of the few who survived, around
200,000 people, most emigrated from Poland. Many came to the United States, while others fled to Israel and South America.
Mr. Speaker, estimates of Poland's Jewish population range from 3,500 to 15,000, out of a total population of over 38 million. This dramatically reduced post-war Jewish population has led to some false claims that there were no Jews in Poland. Given the long history of Poland's Jews, combined with the tragic decline of their population during the Holocaust, it is singularly important that steps are taken to preserve and protect their cultural heritage. Indeed, the nearly 9 million Americans who
claim Polish lineage will benefit from visible reminders of their forebearers.
Mr. Speaker, for almost over 10 years now, a team of international experts has worked tirelessly to establish a Museum of the History of the Polish Jews for this very purpose. This museum aims to preserve the history and culture of Jewish people in Poland over the last 1,000 years, beginning with their 11th century emigration from Western Europe to escape persecution in their vibrant community between the world wars.
Mr. Speaker, the City of Warsaw and the Polish Government have been active supporters and contributors to this project. In 1997, the city donated the land near the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial on which to construct this new museum. This area is located in Warsaw's former Jewish quarter, which previously housed a thriving community of about 400,000 Jewish people.
Mr. Speaker, in 2005, two years ago, the city and the government donated 40 million zlotys, currently worth about $14.5 million, for the museum's construction. In the year 2005, again, two years ago, a Finnish architectural firm was selected to design the project. In June of this year, Polish authorities broke ground at the site. Construction is expected to take two years, enabling the museum to open by the year 2010.
This bill authorizes U.S. funding to assist in the development of the permanent collection of the museum. This money will ensure the protection of artifacts documenting the heritage of the Jewish Polish people and many of their descendants who currently live in the United States.
Museum organizers have already asked the people of Poland to donate memorabilia to the project, collecting photographs, documents, and other remaining items. One such object includes a penknife provided by a woman whose father, a forced laborer in a Nazi arms factory, obtained from a fellow prisoner who had received it as a bar mitzvah gift. American funding will help these efforts.
I strongly support this bill and ask my colleagues to join me in ensuring the preservation of such a rich cultural legacy.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. BILIRAKIS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 3320, a measure to provide support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which was introduced by the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), my good friend. This bill would authorize funding to assist in the development of the permanent collection of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
As we all know, the knowledge of history is tremendously important, both to understand our heritage and to our efforts to ensure that mistakes made in the past are avoided now and in the future. The Jewish people have a long and rich history in Poland. In fact, at the beginning of World War II, Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe. Tragically, almost all of that population in Poland was murdered in the Holocaust.
The Polish Government has donated land and has also agreed to provide [Page: H13541]
millions of dollars for construction of the museum. I ask my colleagues to support this bill, which would go on to assist in the development of the museum's collection. The tremendously rich 1,000-year history of the Jewish people in Poland should not be forgotten, Mr. Speaker. I urge my colleagues to pass this bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend and colleague Mr. Bilirakis for yielding and Chairman Faleomavaega for his very strong words in support of this legislation; Tom Lantos, the chairman of our committee; and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who were very strong supporters and backers of the bill before us today as well.
Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of World War II, Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe. Over 50 percent of world Jewry has family ties to this pre-war community. Tragically, as a result of the Holocaust, a once thriving community was virtually destroyed.
In 1996, a group of people developed the idea for a museum dedicated to the culture, art and history of Poland's Jews. As one of the founders of the museum told me when I visited Warsaw a couple of years ago, We often learn how Jews died, but rarely how they lived. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews will change this. Indeed, it will solemnly remember the 3 million Polish Jews who died during the Holocaust and World War II, but also it will celebrate the rich 1,000 years of Polish Jewish
The interactive museum will allow visitors to view the long history of Jews in Poland in context, examining their lives through nine thematic galleries that illustrate their culture, their accomplishments, and the challenges they faced. The museum will measure 14,000 square feet and incorporate state-of-the-art multimedia installations that showcase the museum's collection, an archive of over 60,000 computer files of images collected from around the world. The nine galleries that house the museum's
core exhibition provide 43,000 square feet of space that will be equipped with the latest technology to showcase a variety of multimedia displays. These exhibitions are being developed by a team of scholars, historians and museum experts from Poland, Israel, and the United States.
A crown jewel of the museum and a key element to serving the public will be the 5,400 square-foot state-of-the-art education center that includes a resource center for visitors. Multimedia displays and Web-based kiosks will share the museum's data base of 60,000 documents and objects with visitors, who will also have access to a reading room as well as a library.
Today, Mr. Speaker, despite the robust efforts of many good people, anti-Semitism remains a dangerous and a growing force in Europe and elsewhere in the world. By looking at the life of Polish Jewry and also documenting the events of the Holocaust, the museum and its educational center will make a major contribution in combating anti-Semitism. A better understanding of the great contributions that Polish Jews have made to society will help fight off the ignorance and the lies that bring about
There is no better time for a living monument to stand against anti-Semitism than now, and no better place than in the heart of Europe, the place where the Nazis put so many Jews to death. In 1997, the City of Warsaw donated land adjacent to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument for the construction of this museum. In June of 2007, authorities broke ground for its construction. It is now slated for opening in 2010, but there still is a significant deficit in funding.
It is one of the first institutions in post-European Poland to be built through a partnership of public and private support. The Government of Poland and the City of Warsaw have each designated some $15 million for the museum, and a number of private corporations and individuals from Israel, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, of course that includes the United States, have also agreed to contribute. Just yesterday, the Government of Germany signed an agreement to donate
over $7 million to the effort. All donors are united in preserving the memory of a magnificent people, who have made such a positive difference, and to combat the rising ugly tide of anti-Semitism.
As you can imagine, it's a costly and difficult project to assemble artifacts and memorabilia from Polish Jewry. Not only did the Nazis systematically destroy Jewish men, women and children, they sought to erase all memory of a noble people. The Nazis also decimated most of the City of Warsaw. Our contribution of $5 million will be more than just a symbol of American commitment to these principles, although that is important. It will be more than a reminder of the historical ties that bind many
descendants of Polish Jews in the United States and elsewhere to Polish Jewry, although that, too, is a worthy goal. This contribution will be an important aid in making this project a reality. It will help bring it to completion.
I urge support for H.R. 3320. As one supporter called this, this is a ``restitution of memory.''