It even got to the point that the man behind the Law and Justice party, Kaczyński, started getting involved – he said that the focus on German civilians is another sign of German control over the liberal government. It's an attempt to disintegrate the Polish nation, or even the idea of nationhood. The museum, in his words, was a threat to the country's national identity.
But the museum kept plugging along in terms of design and construction, but it took a number of years and it had to survive the results of the 2015 national election. The Law and Justice party got in and, as part of their platform, said that they would change the museum to, finally, reflect the Polish point of view. "But who," the former director says, "gives Kaczyński the right to define exactly that that view is?"
But museum supporters knew this was coming and took steps against it – they designed contract that, if anything were to be changed or stopped, would cost major money from the Polish state. High financial losses. And the former director, at that time the real director, couldn't be fired without breaking the law. So the Law and Justice party had to think of something else to do.
What they ended up deciding on was the creation of a new museum on the site of a former garrison – the building itself was involved in the beginning of the Polish part of the war and so had historical significance. But by 'opening' they meant having it just on paper – there was no address, exhibitions, employees, or phone number. It existed purely in the bureaucracy as a ghost museum, also dedicated to WWII. And then a few months later, in April 2016, the minister of culture said it didn't make sense for two war museums to exist in Gdansk. They would be joined, each one liquidated, and a new one would be formed in its place.
And, of course, a new museum needed a new director. While it would have been against the law to fire the old director, it isn't strictly 'firing' if your museum disappears into legal smoke.
This would also give them time to redesign the exhibitions before they were finished in 2017, drastically changing the nature of the museum itself. But there was a flaw: Polish law demanded a delay of at least three months. And then the former museum started the appeals, trying to gain as much time as possible to finish and open the complex. The Law and Justice party, now the national gov't, thought that they'd be getting the keys right away, but technicality after technicality (and a large number of loopholes) prevented them from taking full control. The last bit of time came from the administrative court, which upheld the delays and gave the last remaining time to install everything else and open the museum in 2017.
People came from all over Poland to see just what the hell this place was about – 300,000 visitors in just the first few months. Demonstrations in support of the autonomy of culture from the gov't. Demonstrations in support of autonomy of national culture from the European project. It wasn't 100% ready yet but the last touches were put into place after the opening and, in April 2017, the highest courts said the administrative court couldn't uphold the delay and the decision was overturned. The museum was formally liquidated and disappeared, leaving only a gorgeous complex of bricks, mortar and six thousand square feet of exhibition.
The former director became a former director, and the first changes only started coming in after six months. That meant, for the original team, six months of intactness, and crowds of people saw the original shape of the exhibition. The original changes were technically minor ("Although nothing is minor," he said), removing a film that showed the consequences of the war (the Balkans, USSR, fall of Communist Europe) and replaced it with a patriotic one. Numbers saying that there were partisans in other parts of Europe than Poland were removed. More elements were added about Poles saving Jews, as well as focusing on the suffering of Catholic priests.
The legal battle still continues, but quite a bit of damage is done. He hopes, though, to preserve the history of the museum itself. When we get there on Saturday, he says, we need to know that we're not just in a museum, not just in a building documenting history. We're in the middle of a moment of history itself, a clash of ideas about how we remember, what gets carried into the present. What will be carried into the future.