The Museum of the Second World War

Plac, Władysława Bartoszewskiego 1, 80-862 Gdańsk, Poland

When you see the tilted tower in terra-cotta red tiles of the Museum of the Second World War, leaning at a precarious angle and daringly contemporary, especially in the context of Gdansk with its many meticulously restored historic buildings, you might be surprised that the architecture was not the most controversial aspect of this institution. The building, designed by the Polish studio Kwadrat, has mostly been highly praised. It is instead the exhibits inside that have been a point of contention, and lawsuits, over their portrayals of Poland‘s role in the war. More than 75 years after its end, the degree to which Poles were resistors, collaborators, or victims remains a difficult topic.

Regardless of the nuanced intellectual and complicated legal debates, the museum has an extensive collection of artifacts from the 1930s and 40s and brings to life the impact of the war on Poland, which had the bad luck of sitting between two major powers and foes: Germany and the Soviet Union. With more than 48,000 square feet, the curators have taken advantage of the generous spaces with, for example, a recreation of the Grossegasse, the main street of the neighborhood (completely destroyed in the war) which once sat where the museum is located. A kid-friendly introduction to the war consists of three versions of the same apartment, in 1939, 1943, and 1945. Younger visitors are given the challenge of figuring out the differences between them, from the disappearance of silverware sold by desperate residents to the addition of a cot, for a displaced relative. With its central location, it’s easy to tour the museum even if you are just in Gdansk for a day, say as a port of call on a Viking cruise to the Baltic.

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