‘It took an army to make this exhibition’, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett told her audience and ‘having scholars in charge of each section had been the key to the Museum’s success’. In May I attended a conference seven months after the opening of the core exhibition of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. At the conclusion of the eight- year project, those involved in the Museum’s creation were keen to open debate on what had worked well and what less so, and to identify the gaps in Polish Jewish history requiring further historical effort. The core exhibition offered a starting point for that discussion.
A triumphant flinging of mortar boards as the 2014 graduates of the University of East Anglia’s School of World Art Studies and Museology received their degrees recently. Among them was IWM Research Manager Emily Peirson-Webber, who graduated with a Master of Arts with Distinction in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies. Emily’s dissertation focused on the uses of Great War memory in the construction of modern British identity. Congratulations Emily!
The Holocaust Exhibition was ten years old last year, and giving talks about its impact is a rewarding thing to do. Visitor figures – at 7-800 a day – are still high. The subject has become mainstream after years of being marginalised, and films, tv programmes and books still appear each month with new slants, and new questions.
Back in Sarajevo. I call in on Muhamed Mujkic, who co-directed the Memorial Room film with the British documentary maker Leslie Woodhead, at his office at the Federation for Missing Persons. His job is to document the excavations of mass graves found in Bosnia – something he has now done for 15 years. Last year a new mass grave was found–when a damming project at Perucac Lake caused a river bed to yield up its terrible secret – their work is far from over.
Wood-smoke curls through the darkness as I make my way to Sarajevo’s bus station for the 7am daily bus to Srebrenica. It’s my first visit to Bosnia since 2007 when the Srebrenica Memorial Room opened, a project initiated by Lord Ashdown, then High Representative in Bosnia Hercegovina, and supported by the IWM.
A delegation comes from the Wellcome Trust – to hear what we are doing on the medical history front. It’s a great opportunity to let them hear and see just how strong are our collections on this topic. Inevitably the medical treatment of wounded soldiers is a running theme in our collections – whether recruiting posters for Red Cross nurses in the First World War or films urging soldiers to protect themselves against malaria in the Second. But there are wider themes you can explore here too – there are few aspects of war which did not impinge on health also.
The Muswell Hill studio is flooded with sunlight and all around are paintings of flowers in radiant reds, yellows and blues. I have come to visit Alicia Melamed Adams, the Holocaust survivor whose paintings and whose story I wrote up as one of the chapters of Justice, Politics and Memory in Europe after the Second World War published this summer. We did the interviews in this studio a year ago, sifting through her old family photographs and going over the details of her family’s horrendous wartime ordeal.
The wooden library trolley creaks into our Board Room. Piled on its shelves are around twenty boxes of transcripts made by the BBC Monitoring Service during and after the Second World War. Around the table are gathered four academics – Professor Hilary Footitt, Professor David Welch, Dr Alban Webb and Dr Peter Busch – who have kindly agreed to give us their thoughts on where we go next with this large, academically potent collection.