Monday, October 27, 2014

Q&A with the Director of Karski & The Lords of Humanity

On Wednesday, November 19 at 7 p.m., the Museum  will welcome director Slawomir Grünberg for a screening and discussion of his new film, Karski & the Lords of Humanity.

The film tells the story of Jan Karski, the Polish resistance fighter who risked his life to reveal the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. This innovative documentary in English and Polish sheds light on Karski’s daring exploits and important legacy 100 years after his birth.

Watch the trailer here.

We’re grateful that Mr. Grünberg took the time to answer some of our questions about the film’s subject and his unique way of portraying Karksi’s life using animation.

MJH: Why you were drawn to Karski’s story

Slawomir Grünberg: Jan Karski is an example of a modern day hero. I wanted to present an earnest portrait of a man who juggled between life and death while fulfilling a desperate mission to stop the annihilation of European Jews. As a member of the Polish underground during World War II, Karski took a huge risk by infiltrating the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi transit camp. There he witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust in order to carry a first-hand report to the Western Allies and the world’s leaders. When I first heard the story, I was very inspired that this extraordinary individual was only 25 years old at the time of his mission.” 

MJH: What you hope audiences will walk away thinking or feeling about his life and legacy? 

SG: We hope our audience will be diverse, not only in terms of age, but also in terms of religion, ethnicity, and cultural background. We would like the viewers to learn about Karski’s World War II mission, and also come away with an appreciation of Karski’s contribution to the humanities. We are especially interested in engaging university and high-school students. We are reaching out to them via Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube. Having presented excerpts from the work-in-progress, we are receiving very positive responses to the use of animation in the project, especially from educators who continue to approach us expressing their desire to use the completed film in their work.

MJH:  We’d love to hear a little about why you chose to partially animate the film.

SG: My inspiration to use animation in my project was the Israeli film "Waltz with Bashir," which I found extremely moving. A similar innovative fusion of technologies was employed by our team to create a unique film reality, and to bring Karski’s compelling story to life.

The film employs animation intertwined with documentary scenes and archival footage, including authentic voice-over by Jan Karski himself. Thanks to the animation techniques, we are able to recreate the events, which took place during Karski’s World War II mission including his treacherous visit to the Warsaw Ghetto, where he witnessed the indignities and traumas to which Jews were being subjected in Nazi-occupied Poland only months preceding the Final Solution. 

 The film is presented with the Polish Cultural Institute and the Jan Karski Educational Foundation.

Image courtesy of Slawomir Grünberg. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Excerpt: The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis

Every once in a while, a book comes along that shakes up the literary scene. This fall, Martin Amis’ new novel, The Zone of Interest, did just that. The book, which is an unlikely love story set in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, has garnered all sorts of interesting conversations and debates. We’re pleased to welcome Mr. Amis on November 16 when he will be joined by author Ron Rosenbaum for a discussion of the book as part of our 92Y@MJH series. Below is an excerpt of the book.

3. SZMUL: Sonder

Ihr seit achzen johr, we whisper, und ihr hott a fach.

Once upon a time there was a king, and the king commissioned

his favourite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn’t show

you your reflection. It showed you your soul—it showed you who you

really were.

The wizard couldn’t look at it without turning away. The king

couldn’t look at it. The courtiers couldn’t look at it. A chestful of treasure

was offered to any citizen in this peaceful land who could look at

it for sixty seconds without turning away. And no one could.

I find that the KZ is that mirror. The KZ is that mirror, but with

one difference. You can’t turn away.

We are of the Sonderkommando, the SK, the Special Squad, and

we are the saddest men in the Lager. We are in fact the saddest men in

the history of the world. And of all these very sad men I am the saddest.

Which is demonstrably, even measurably true. I am by some distance

the earliest number, the lowest number—the oldest number.

As well as being the saddest men who ever lived, we are also the most

disgusting. And yet our situation is paradoxical.

It is difficult to see how we can be as disgusting as we unquestionably

are when we do no harm.

The case could be made that on balance we do a little good. Still, we

are infinitely disgusting, and also infinitely sad.

Nearly all our work is done among the dead, with the heavy scissors,

the pliers and mallets, the buckets of petrol refuse, the ladles, the


Yet we also move among the living. So we say, “Viens donc, petit

marin. Accroche ton costume. Rapelle-toi le numéro. Tu es quatrevingts

trois!” And we say, “Faites un n’ud avec les lacets, Monsieur. Je

vais essayer de trouver un cintre pour vôtre manteau. Astrakhan! C’est

noison d’agneaux, n’est-ce pas?

After a major Aktion we typically receive a fifth of vodka or schnapps,

five cigarettes, and a hundred grams of sausage made from bacon, veal,

and pork suet. While we are not always sober, we are never hungry and

we are never cold, at least not at night. We sleep in the room above the

disused crematory (hard by the Monopoly Building), where the sacks of

hair are cured.

When he was still with us, my philosophical friend Adam used to say,

We don’t even have the comfort of innocence. I didn’t and I don’t agree.

I would still plead not guilty.

A hero, of course, would escape and tell the world. But it is my feeling

that the world has known for quite some time. How could it not, given

the scale?

There persist three reasons, or excuses, for going on living: first, to bear

witness, and, second, to exact mortal vengeance. I am bearing witness;

but the magic looking glass does not show me a killer. Or not yet.

Third, and most crucially, we save a life (or prolong a life) at the rate of

one per transport. Sometimes none, sometimes, two—an average of

one. And 0.01 per cent is not 0.00. They are invariably male youths.

It has to be effected while they’re leaving the train; by the time the

lines form for the selection—it’s already too late.

Ihr seit achzen johr alt, we whisper, und ihr hott a fach. Sic achtzehn Jahre alt

sind, und Sie haben einen Handel. Vous avez dix-huit ans, et vous avez un


You are eighteen years old, and you have a trade.

Excerpted from THE ZONE OF INTEREST by Martin Amis.

Copyright © 2014 by Martin Amis. Excerpted by permission of

Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without

permission in writing from the publisher.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Behind the Display Cases of the Museum

This week, two members of our Collections and Exhibitions staff, Jennifer Roberts and Rachel Goldstein, take us behind the scenes – and behind the display cases. For more from our C&E staff, you can follow them on Twitter (@MJHREG) where they tweet all about collecting, rotating, and preserving.

Have you ever been to a museum only to discover that your favorite objects were no longer on view? There are many reasons why museums remove items from display. At MJH items are removed most frequently due to a process we call rotation. 


Though our galleries are maintained according to museum standards, it is impossible to avoid exposure to light and changes in temperature and humidity, which over time can adversely affect objects on display. Museums combat this continued risk by frequently rotating objects on view. You’ll find us in the permanent collection every few weeks installing new objects and returning displayed items to storage. Because light and temperature damage accumulate over time and cannot be reversed, we store items in boxes that help protect them from light and in a climate controlled space.
The rotation process involves many steps and the cooperation of the curatorial and registration staff. Our collections curators begin the process by deciding which case in the permanent exhibition to rotate. Using MIMSY, our collections database, they compile a list of potential objects that fit – thematically, aesthetically, and physically – within the chosen case. This list of objects is then sent to our registrars who condition report each object. Condition reporting allows us to document the objects’ current physical state, including any damage, wear and tear, and areas of concern. If it is determined that the objects are suitable for display, we will consult our preparator, who makes recommendations for mounting and display.
While our preparator is busy making mounts for the objects, our curators design case layouts and write label text. Once the text and layouts are finalized, we produce our own labels and make sure everything is accurate, complete, and ready to rotate.

Installation usually occurs during early morning hours prior to the museum opening to the public. Once the case is open and the current objects have been removed, we take the opportunity to clean and dust inside the case. The new objects are installed along with their corresponding labels, and the physical installation is complete. Photos help document the newly rotated case, and our database records are updated to reflect the many changes. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Monkey Around with Us This Fall

While we usually frown on mischief-making exotic animals in the galleries, this fall, we’re thrilled to welcome everyone’s favorite monkey, Curious George as NYC’s Official Family Ambassador.

"With the help of the Official NYC Family Ambassador, Curious George, we are pleased to welcome even more families to discover the endless urban activities in New York City's five boroughs," said Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company. "Curious George is a beloved and amiable character known for his adventures, and we look forward to working with him to encourage family travelers to have an enriched vacation experience in New York City." 

At the Museum, we have another connection to George. His creators Margret and H. A. Rey were German-born Jews who fled the Nazis in Paris on their bicycles, carrying their drawings. George even managed to save his creators. When the Reys were stopped and questioned by authorities suspicious of their German accents, they were let go once they showed what they were really doing—writing children’s books. We can’t help but be inspired by George’s narrow escapes and optimistic spunk, and hope our littlest visitors will be, too.

Starting today on, Curious George will encourage family travel with editorial content that features family-friendly activities and destinations for visitors as well as New Yorkers to enjoy. The editorial content includes kid-friendly NYC travel materials; guides to NYC's beaches, zoos, aquariums, and museums for children; must-see green spaces such as Central Park and Prospect Park; and more.

NYC & Company is collaborating with 16 cultural institutions throughout all five boroughs, including our Museum, to distribute a Curious George activity sheet that encourages kids and parents to use their five senses to explore each attraction and destination. Participating cultural institutions include the Louis Armstrong House Museum, National Museum of the American Indian–NY, New York Botanical Garden, New York Transit Museum and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. 

The family ambassador program is a joint effort with NYC &CO., NBCUniversal, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) and PBS KIDS. 

The hit television series Curious George airs daily on PBS KIDS (check local listings). Digital games and activities from the series are also available at

Image courtesy of PBS KIDS and NYC &CO.