Polish National Museum in Rapperswil celebrates 150th birthday

Perched on the banks of Lake Zurich the 12th century castle housing the museum is a popular destination for people visiting nearby Zurich or holidaying on the lake. CC BY-SA 3.0

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Polish National Museum in Rapperswil, Switzerland.

The Polen Museum, as it is known locally, was founded in 1870 by Polish Count Władysław Broël-Plater. The original goal of the museum was to create a place to showcase Polish culture and history.

Supported by the local community of migrants and Swiss, the museum thrived early on and the collection swelled with donations pouring in from around the world.

The museum at Rapperswil became a home for cultural testimonies from Polish diaspora from around the world.

The Polen Museum, as it is known locally, was founded in 1870 by Polish Count Władysław Broël-Plater with the original goal being to create a place to showcase Polish culture and history.Polenmuseum Rapperswil /Muzeum Polskie w Rapperswilu/Facebook

Anna Buchmann, the museum’s director, told TFN: “The main task of the museum is to inform people about the history of Poland, its neighbouring countries, historical relations between Poland and Switzerland, as well as displaying Polish art.

“The library collection is a source of information for Swiss and German journalists, while the archive is a resource for researchers of Polish history and literature.”

Perched on the banks of Lake Zurich the 12th century castle had fallen into disrepair before Count Broël-Plater signed a 99 year lease and restored the building before housing the museum there.

In 1936 the museum rebranded itself as the ‘Museum of Contemporary Poland’ with the goal of popularizing modern Polish art and promoting the  achievements of independent Poland.Polen Museum

The museum has become a popular destination for people visiting nearby Zurich or holidaying on Lake Zurich.

“The Polish Museum in Rapperswil has always been, and still is, directed to both the local community and foreign audience. Foreigners make up 85 percent of the visitors,” Buchmann, said.

At the turn of the 20th century it housed the largest Polish Library outside of Poland.

During the war, the museum helped 13,000 Polish soldiers who had been interned to Switzerland. After the war many of the soldiers stayed with some contributing to the museum.Polenmuseum Rapperswil/Muzeum Polskie w Rapperswilu/Facebook

The collections of the Polish Library consisted of 91,000 books, brochures and periodicals, 27,000 manuscripts, diplomas and autographs, 1,400 maps and atlases, over 1,000 musical scores and about 10,000 photographs.

The present collection of the Library, which has now been rehoused to the Burghof  tenement house close by, have been gathered since the 1970’s consists exclusively of donations from private individuals as well as of Polish and foreign authors.

Count Broël-Plater had promised to return the items to an independent Poland and in accordance with his will in 1927 the museum returned 3,000 artworks, 2,000 historical relics, a military collection, 20,000 prints, 9,000 medals and coins, 92,000 books and 27,000 archives to Warsaw.

Part of the Castle's second floor was taken up by an extensive library which at its peak contained over 90,000 volumes further prints, photographs, notes and a cartographic collection.Polen museum

In 1936 the museum rebranded itself as the ‘Museum of Contemporary Poland’ with the goal of popularizing modern Polish art and promoting the  achievements of independent Poland.

Under new director Halina Kenar-Jastrzębowska the museum helped 13,000 Polish soldiers which had been interned to Switzerland. After the war many of the soldiers stayed with some contributing to the museum.

In 1952 the Museum of Modern Art was closed because of actions of the Polish Communist government, the lease on the castle was terminated early and all remaining items were returned to Poland.

The present collection of the Library, which has now been rehoused to the Burghof  tenement house close by, consists exclusively of donations from private individuals as well as of Polish and foreign authors.Polen museum

The Museum of the Polish Culture and History reopened in 1975 and celebrates the Swiss-Polish bond and while it remains a popular location for visitors in 2008 locals successfully campaigned for the museum to be evicted from  the castle.

As of yet no new home for the museum has been found with Anna Buchmann saying: “The collection, just like the museum, is private property.

“The loss of its historical setting is very painful but at the moment we are unable to influence the authorities’ decision, which has decided, after 150 years of the museum's existence, to remove it from the castle.”