- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Poland’s conservative government announced Thursday that it is merging a major museum on World War II that was due to open next year with a different museum that doesn’t yet exist, a legal maneuver that allows it to take control of an ambitious new institution.

The move comes as the nationalist ruling party has been taking charge of state enterprises and cultural institutions, purging previous appointees and replacing them with party loyalists.

Work on the Museum of the Second World War has been underway for eight years and it was due to open early next year in Gdansk. It aimed to be the first museum in the world that tells the story of the war in its entirety, focusing on the suffering of civilian populations across Europe and Asia.

However, Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, on a self-declared mission to build a strong nation state, doesn’t like the concept, and has said he prefers a museum that gives the Polish “point of view.” He has long vowed to change the concept of the project if his party returned to power.

The Culture Ministry said Thursday it will merge the World War II museum with another museum that was announced in December but doesn’t exist yet, “Westerplatte and the War of 1939.” Westerplatte is a peninsula in Gdansk that came under German attack in 1939.

It said the merged institution would keep the original museum’s name, the Museum of the Second World War.

“Despite fears voiced in the media, the step does not mean that the original World War II museum will be liquidated or its permanent exhibition limited,” the ministry said in a statement, arguing that the main reason was to economize.

However, the original museum’s director, Pawel Machcewicz, said the move will create an entirely new cultural institution and allow the government to remove him from his position along with other members of management.

It was the only legal way to remove Machcewicz, whose contract otherwise ran through 2019.

Machcewicz said he doesn’t know how much of the content whose creation he has overseen will be preserved, and how much changed. The Culture Ministry also didn’t give any indication of that on Thursday.

In mid-April, the government first indicated that it was considering a takeover of the original museum. The plans sparked the outrage of historians, museum professionals and many others who fear that the museum will become a tool in a government project to use history as propaganda.

On Wednesday, an organization representing Polish wartime resistance fighters wrote to Culture Minister Piotr Glinski expressing “deep concern” about the fate of the museum in Gdansk. The World Union of the Home Army Veterans said it had put “great hope in a dignified commemoration” that the museum promised of the wartime experience of Poles and others who came under Nazi and Soviet occupations.

Meanwhile, about 200 historians from the U.S. and Europe, including some of the world’s most distinguished experts on the war and 20th-century history, sent a separate appeal to Glinski on Wednesday asking him to allow the museum to open, saying “any interruption in its work will count as tragedy in the eyes of all who study the past and all who care about Poland’s future.”

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Monika Scislowska contributed to this story.

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