Exhibition
18.04.2023–8.01.2024

"Around Us a Sea of Fire" exhibition

"Around Us a Sea of Fire. The Fate of Jewish Civilians During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising" is the first exhibition devoted to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to focus on the perspective of civilians. During the Uprising, they hid in bunkers and shelters, defying the German system of deportations and mass murder. Instead of responding to summons to turn up for transports heading towards imminent death, they remained in hiding. Their silent act of resistance was as important as armed combat.

Words are practically all the exhibition protagonists left behind

The exhibition we opened on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is unique on many levels. Professor Barbara Engelking, author of the exhibition concept, and Zuzanna Schnepf-Kołacz, the exhibition curator, focused on the experience of the civilians described in their diaries or notes taken during the Uprising or immediately after its suppression. Words are all that has survived, the only trace left of these people.

Thanks to these words, we will recall the memory of an Anonymous Author who hid in the bunker in the vicinity of 44 Miła Street, of lab technician Stella Fidelseid who gave birth to a baby boy in the bunker, of 17-year old Leon Najberg who returned to the ghetto once he’d heard the Uprising was about to break out. Finally, we get acquainted with the story of Hena Kuczer (today Krystyna Budnicka), one of the very few people who are still alive and remember the Uprising. Ms Budnicka will share the story of her family in the exposition—the story of her parents and seven siblings who all perished in the ghetto.

The exhibition retells the chapter in history which took place right here: in Warsaw, in Muranów, at the very spot where POLIN Museum stands today. It focuses on the fate of ca 50,000 civilians who hid in a labyrinth of bunkers and shelters during the Uprising. The traces of those people’s lives remain hidden under the ground.

In the face of death

We show what an everyday life in a bunker was like: what were the living conditions, with whom people shared their hiding space, how they coped with routine activities and needs. Thanks to the exhibition design by Małgorzata Szczęśniak and Saskia Hellman, the experience of being inside the bunker becomes almost tangible—the heat from burning buildings, darkness, lack of space and air to breathe. The exposition is accompanied by a soundscape composed by Paweł Mykietyn, inspired by 11-year old pianist Josima Feldshuh who died of pneumonia in a hideout on the ‘Aryan’ side on the third day of the Uprising.

We talk about relations developing between those in hiding, about their feelings and emotions. On the one hand—conflicts, fear, panic attacks, lack of hope and a sense of desolation, abandonment and indifference of the outside world, a sense of a life lost. On the other—a need for love and intimacy, a sense of agency and taking responsibility for others. A will to stay alive, saving oneself and one’s nearest and dearest, building a community whose members would support and protect one another is also a way to combat evil.

Thou shalt not be indifferent

We present these stories also with today’s world in mind—people whose houses are on fire, who are forced to flee into the unknown seeking rescue for themselves and their relatives; people who feel lonely, helpless and abandoned. Thus, we pose questions that are vital in the present-day reality: how would we behave in the face of death? How do people excluded from society, experiencing indifference and contempt feel? People who are "drowning" (a metaphor often used by the exhibition protagonists), for whom there is no rescue? How can we combat evil, how do we resist it? What is indifference and what does it lead to? Do we feel ashamed when we witness the suffering of others?

In view of its subject matter, the exhibition is not recommended for children under 14 years of age. The exposition is accompanied by recordings which may arouse intense emotions.

Part of the exposition consists of confined, dark spaces. Entering them may cause discomfort.

Even though the exhibition space has been adapted for visitors with impaired mobility, wheelchair access may be impeded in some areas.

 

The soundscape is an integral part of the exhibition. It contains excerpts from the diaries and memoirs of the exhibition protagonists read out by actors, accompanied by music composed especially for the exhibition by a renowned composer Paweł Mykietyn, laureate of the European Film Award for music to the film "I.O." by Jerzy Skolimowski (nominated to the Oscars).

We encourage you to tour the exhibition with headphones and a wireless set, available at the ticket desk and included in the price of a ticket for the exhibition. We recommend listening to the audio content with fragments of memoirs first, before reading the texts in the exposition. The recordings in each section last about 2-3 minutes and contain the same texts that are displayed in the exhibition, accompanied by additional quotes from the accounts given by its protagonists.

How to use the player with a soundscape in the exhibition hall >>

  • Author of the exhibition concept: Barbara Engelking
  • Exhibition curator: Zuzanna Schnepf-Kołacz
  • Production curator: Agata Polak
  • Curatorial cooperation: Kinga Lewandowska-Doleszczak, Anna Rechentiuk-Tyszka, Katarzyna Tomczak-Wysocka
  • Exhibition design: Małgorzata Szczęśniak, Saskia Hellmann
  • Architectural design: Aleksander Świtkowski
  • Graphic design: Renata Motyka, Rafał Grunt
  • Sound and audio play: Wawrzyniec Kostrzewski, Paweł Mykietyn, Jaśmina Polak, Piotr Polak, Kajetan Prochyra
  • Audio system design: Łukasz Marzec, Movitech sp. z o.o.
  • Art installations: Joanna Rajkowska, Justyna Kosińska
  • Exhibition production: Deko-Bau Sp. z o.o.
  • Lighting supervisor: Dariusz Adamski
  • Film: TVN24 team: Maciej Gralec, Kinga Pestkowska, Piotr Pestkowski, Agnieszka Wolak-Słupecka
  • Animations: Bartosz Konieczny
  • Head of POLIN Exhibition Department: Joanna Fikus
  • Registrars: Aneta Jasionek, Jan Orliński
  • Conservation: Agnieszka Cyrulik, Erika Krzyczkowska-Roman, Marta Stawińska
  • Licences: Anna Rechentiuk-Tyszka
  • Translation and proofreading: Nili Amit, Paweł Bączkowski, Aleksandra Jakubczak-Gabay, Zofia Sochańska, Mateusz Szczepaniak, Anna Szyba, Karolina Szymaniak
  • Proofreading of Polish texts: Joanna Cieślik, Helena Łuczywo, Marta Markowska
  • Promotion: Marlena Bogusz, Marta Dziewulska, Olga Kaliszewska, Katarzyna Krauze, Michał Kulisiewicz, Katarzyna Lewandowska, Natalia Popławska, Jakub Woźniak, Małgorzata Zając
  • Exhibition key visual and catalogue design: Tomasz Frycz, Marcin Wicha
  • Accompanying program coordinator: Marta Sarnowska
  • Maps: Paweł Weszpiński
  • Consultants: Mikołaj Grynberg, Agnieszka Haska, Marta Janczewska, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Piotr Kowalik, Jacek Leociak, Dariusz Libionka, Krzysztof Persak, Alina Skibińska, Dariusz Stola, Zygmunt Walkowski

Logos of organizers and partners of "Around Us a Sea of Fire" exhibition