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1,000 Years of Polish Jewish History on Display at Harvard

December 3, 1981
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One thousand years of Polish Jewish history was put on view tonight at Harvard’s Widener Library with the opening of “Jewish Art and Artifacts: Lost and Rediscovered,” a loan exhibition sponsored by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) under the terms of an unusual cultural exchange agreement with the Polish Government.

At a dinner tonight, given by Harvard University president Derek Bok, Poland’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Jerzy Kuberski, hailed the exhibition as “testifying to the creativity of Jews living in Poland” and expressing the hope that the exhibition would “mark further cooperation and serve the common need for friendship and peace.”

Kuberski recalled the Statute of Kalisoz, which he said was one of the world’s first legal documents defining the rights and privileges of the Jewish community. The statute dates back to the year 1264.

Kuberski, who is also president of the International Association for Januscz Korczak, Polish Jewish author and educator who went with 200 children to the gas chambers at Treblinka, said the exhibition demonstrated “the contribution of Polish Jews — scholars, artisans, writers, rabbis and zadikim — to the repository of human achievement.

“The thousand year history of Polish Jewry depicted in this exhibition,” he said, “is testimony to the existence of Jewish and Polish lives, so tragically broken and sanctified by the death of millions.”


Rabbi Philip Hiat, assistant to Rabbi Alexander Schindler, UAHC president, praised the Polish government and Catholic church authorities in Poland for their cooperation in making available the rare examples of Jewish art for the loan exhibition. Among the items on view, which Hiat helped to choose during three visits to Poland this year, are: a silver and gilt Torah Crown inlaid with semi-precious stones; a Torah mantle of silk and metallic thread; a 13th century Codex; and a 14th Century holiday prayer-book.

The exhibition will travel across the United States, beginning with a private showing at the Knoedler gallery in New York and including the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles, and the Spertus Museum in Chicago. A public showing at the Jewish Museum in New York will be held next May.

In his remarks, Kuberski said also that a major exhibition of Jewish contributions to Polish thought, art, literature and history would be held in Cracow and Warsaw in April 1983 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

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