The Galicia Jewish Museum was established in April 2004, by its founding director, Chris Schwarz. Chris first visited Poland in 1981 to cover the Solidarity movement as a press photographer, but returning to Poland again after the collapse of communism he became interested in the existence of relics of Jewish life in the small towns and villages in the countryside outside Kraków. It was a fortunate meeting with the British anthropologist Jonathan Webber that led to the joint project that was to become known as Traces of Memory. Prof. Webber, then teaching at the University of Oxford, had been engaged in field research in Polish Galicia for a number of years. His research was intended for publication as “Traces of Memory: The Ruins of Jewish Civilization in Polish Galicia”, and his search for a publication photographer led him to Chris. Eventually – after working alongside Jonathan for almost 10 years and producing almost 1,000 photographs – Chris decided to establish the Galicia Jewish Museum, as a permanent home for his photographs.
Home to the internationally acclaimed permanent photographic exhibition, Traces of Memory consisting of photographs by Chris Schwarz and Prof. Jason Francisco. It exists to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and celebrate the Jewish culture of Polish Galicia, presenting Jewish history from a new perspective. The objectives of the Museum are to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions typically associated with the Jewish past in Poland and to educate both Poles and Jews about their own histories, whilst encouraging them to think about the future.
The Museum also shows an exciting range of temporary exhibitions, both curated in-house and sourced from around the world. The Museum’s Cultural and Education Programme is one of the most extensive in Poland, providing a range of services for both individual and group visitors, and the Media Resource Centre houses a growing archive of films on Jewish and Holocaust-related subjects. As well as engaging in primary research and publishing, the Museum also operates one of the largest Jewish bookshops in Poland, and the Museum café serves a range of hot and cold drinks and snacks, and offers a range of catering options for visiting groups.
In February 2015 the Museum acquired additional space located in a neighbouring building lot. The Museum gained additional exhibition space, conference hall, summer garden and office space.
Over the past years, the Museum has become one of the most important Polish institutions dealing with Jewish culture and has garnered recognition from both local and national institutions as well as from visitors. In 2014, users of the Trip Advisor website voted it as one of the 10 most important Polish Museums, and in 2013 the Museum received a Kryształy Soli [Salt Crystals] award in the category “Protection of Cultural Heritage” during the competition organised by the Office of the Marshal of the Małopolska Voivodeship.
The Galicia Jewish Museum is registered as a public benefit institution (Fundacja Galicia Jewish Heritage Institute), a member of the Association of European Jewish Museums, the Association of Holocaust Organizations and the International Council of Museum.