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New Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw unveils its treasures to the public
Boaz Pash, chief rabbi of Krakow, explains symbols of polychrom of reconstructed roof of a 18th century wooden synagogue that once stood in the town of Gwozdziec and which will be a key exhibit in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is due to open in 2014, in Warsaw on March 12, 2013. The original synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. AFP PHOTO/JANEK SKARZYNSKI.

WARSAW (AFP).- It is not as ornate the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, but a life-sized replica of the polychrome ceiling of an 18th-century synagogue inspired awe Tuesday as it was unveiled in the Polish capital.

Covered in richly coloured Old Testament scenes and lushly stylised floral themes, the original ceiling adorned a wooden synagogue in what was the pre-World War II eastern Polish town of Gwozdziec, near what is now Lviv, western Ukraine.

Like thousands of other Jewish religious sites, it was destroyed during the war by Nazi Germany.

Its modern replica is the centrepiece of the Polish capital's new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, due to be formally inaugurated April 19, marking the 70th anniversary of the World War II Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Its door will open to the public next year.

Tuesday's unveiling was "a very special day for the museum because it is the first major element of our permanent exhibition to be installed and it is perhaps the most spectacular element", Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the museum's programme director, told AFP.

"It is really an important symbol of Polish-Jewish life over a thousand years and the relationship between Jews and their Polish neighbours," she added.

The replica, created by Polish artists, pays tribute to the 18th-century artists and craftsmen who created the original, which according to Kirshenblatt-Gimblett "represents the peak of Polish-Jewish creativity".

The replica was handcrafted from wood using traditional tools and techniques and involved nearly 300 craftspeople and artists from around the globe.

The new museum is being built in the heart of the Polish capital on the site of the Jewish ghetto that became a symbol of resistance to Nazi Germany's efforts to eradicate 1,000 years of Jewish presence in Poland.

Designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamaeki and Ilmar Lahdelma, the new museum faces the imposing black-stone Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial dedicated to those who perished in the doomed 1943 Jewish revolt against the Nazis.

A gaping hole on its facade symbolises the Biblical parting of the Red Sea, which allowed the Prophet Moses to lead the Jews out of bondage in ancient Egypt.

The new museum boasts an exhibition area of 12,800 square metres (138,000 square feet) including a multimedia hall sitting 450 people, an education centre, a kids corner, a restaurant and a cafe.

The project is financed by private donors, German foundations as well as the Polish government, the city of Warsaw and the European Union. It is expected to cost 160 million zlotys (38.6 million euros, $50.4 million).

In eight themed halls, visitors will learn about the arrival of Jews in Poland who had fled Spain, and about how Jewish life flourished there until the period between the two world wars.

The last halls focuses on the Holocaust and the post-war period.

In 1939, Poland was home to some 3.3 million Jews, of whom 400,000 lived in the capital Warsaw. The Jewish community then made up 10 percent of Poland's population and one-third of the capital.

From the Middle Ages on, Poland received Jewish refugees from Spain, the German region of Rhineland, and France.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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