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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

I was sitting at a restaurant having a snack and reading the Washington Post, which is not something I normally do but it was more interesting than eavesdropping on the other patrons at the time, which is something I normally do. I read an article that described how the Holocaust Museum’s twenty-year loan from Poland has expired, and many pieces – including the barracks – must be returned. The article was up-in-arms about how crucial the items are to the integrity and impact of the exhibit (which is valid), and, in my view, made it seem like Poland is doing wrong by taking them away from the Museum. The Polish ambassadors are nit-picking over contracts, it seems, while the Museum is doing  tons of good in terms of education. One issue the article raised had to do with Poland’s lack of venues for cultural and historical education, particularly including its own role during the Holocaust. Another issue has to do with differences in belief on how Poland as a nation should handle the aftermath and recovery of its role in WWII.

This article raised questions for me regarding cultural ownership and rights.(I’m not going to go into specifics about my own opinion on the Holocaust Museum issue too much.) Feelings of cultural ownership, especially in this case, can be considered by-products of a pervasive materialist and nationalistic mindset. Regardless of the mission (if a singular goal can ever be unanimously articulated, which it can’t), is there a possibility for letting go of territorial ownership? The items in question might be “better suited” for educational purposes in the American museum. Or other museums. Or not shown. I put that phrase in quotation marks to indicate my belief that it’s not for us or anyone else to say what’s best or right.

  • To whom do unlabeled objects belong? 
  • Which responsibilities do governments have in the rights of its people to access those objects or documents?
  • Who decides what happens to them?

I feel like I had a lot more to say about this. I’ll add more questions as I remember them.

Read the reference: “Holocaust Museum in Negotiations to Maintain Loaned Exhibitions,” by Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post (Feb 16, 2012). The comments section includes more questions and information by the author and some opinionated readers.

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