The Warsaw Ghetto (final – part 3)

Our seemingly never-ending search for ghetto nostalgia continues with the discovery of the most authentic (but well hidden) fragment of wall, some synagogues and the focus point for Jewish remembrance / future site of Jewish history museum.

First of all, here’s one of those maps again so you can find your way around.

Below is a picture taken in 1942-43 that shows a part of the ghetto wall. The commentary on the site where I found it (apologies but I’ve lost the link) suggests it is the same section of wall that exists today between ul. Sienna and ul. Zlota.

Here is that wall today;


The plaque reads – “A casting and two original bricks from this wall erected by the Nazis to enclose the Warsaw ghetto were taken to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to give authentic power to its permanent exhibition. August 1989”

By some mind-blowingly uncaring act of soviet town planning, this section of the wall is separated from an adjacent section by the construction of a housing block (on the right in the photo). The other section can be seen in the photos below and would probably, without the housing, have continued the section of wall in the above photo off to the right (or the section below to the left)

This (dark colour) plaque reads – “In the period from Nov 15th, 1940, to Nov 20th, 1941, this wall marked the limit of the ghetto. This plaque was affixed by The President of the State of Israel, Chaim Herzog, during his state visit to Poland. 26th May, 1992.”

In addition to separating these sections of wall, the post war construction means that both sections are well hidden deep inside a housing estate. Some may tell you that you can find them at ul. Sienna 55. That gets you in the right area but all entrances to the estate from that side are locked, or were when I was there. You therefore need to go to ul. Zlota 62 (just across Jana Pawla from Zlote Tarasy) where you will find a way in – red X marks the spot!

Follow your nose through the alleys until you find this sign

Turning right will get you to the small section and left, followed by a right, to the larger section. Best of luck!

Now, lets go find some synagogues.

Before the Holocaust, Warsaw was the most important Jewish center in Europe. The city’s more than 350,000 Jews made up one-third of the city’s population. More Jews lived in Warsaw than in all of Czechoslovakia; roughly the same number lived in France. Of all the cities in the world, only New York had a bigger Jewish population.

The Nozyk Synagogue, established by a wealthy Warsaw couple, Zalman and Rywka Nozyk, was just one of the city’s more than 440 synagogues and prayer houses.

The Orthodox Synagogue (also known as the Nożyk Synagogue) is the only one to have survived the war (sort of). This is located between ul. Twarda and ul. Grzybowska and is shown on the map as the yellow/black dot closest to the bottom. As usual, it is quite well hidden and is best approached from the Twarda side down this walkway (this photo looking back towards Twarda)

The synagogue looks like this



. . . During the occupation, the synagogue was used by the Nazis for a stable and fodder storage, thus causing considerable devastation. Bombardments of the city during the Warsaw uprising in 1944 caused much damage to the roof and part of the elevation. After the war (in the late 1940s), it was roughly reconstructed and put to religious use. The thorough reconstruction under supervision of architects Hanna Szczepanowska and Eva Dziedzic took place from 1977 to 1983. During the reconstruction new quarters for the Religious Union of the Mosaic Faith in the Polish People’s Republic were added at the eastern wall. The official opening took place on April 18, 1983 (Kagan, 136-137).

By the way. On route you will pass a Zdrój, watering hole, bringing water up from underground springs. It was hot like hell when I visited so I drank some of the water, you could taste the minerals but I’m still alive and kicking.


The main synagogue in Warsaw, however, was the Great Synagogue. This is the yellow/black dot on the map directly below ‘B’ and to the right of ‘A’.

Construction was finished in 1878 and this is how it looked shortly before WWII:

At 20:15 on 16th May 1943, it was blown to smithereens by SS Brigadefuehrer Juergen Stroop by way of celebrating his quashing of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising;

STROOP WAS the archetypal Nazi – a sadistic anti-Semite who took joy in hunting Jews, whom he considered sub-humans. He remained unrepentant right up to his execution in Warsaw [in 1951], after being convicted of war crimes. In the Warsaw Mokotow prison awaiting his trial, he regaled his cellmates with stories of how he had succeeded in liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto. One of them, Kazimierz Moczarski, a Pole accused of activity against the Polish Communist regime, relates in his book Conversations With The Hangman, that when describing how he had dynamited the great synagogue on Tlomackie Street his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.

“What a wonderful sight! I called out Heil Hitler! and pressed the button. A terrific explosion brought flames right up to the clouds. The colors were unbelievable. An unforgettable allegory of the triumph over Jewry. The Warsaw Ghetto has ceased to exist. Because that is what Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler wanted.”

For many years the site of the demolished Great Synagogue was empty (with rumours of a curse), then a building was part constructed but remained unfinished for over 25 years and eventually, in 1993, the construction of what is now called the “blue tower’ was completed.

To the left of the tower in the above photo and also to the left of the synagogue in the historical photo is a building that used to be a Jewish library and was constructed between 1928 – 1936. Somehow it managed to survive the explosion and is used today as the home of the Jewish Historical Institute. In the photo below you can see the institute on the right and the bottom of the blue tower on the left. There is a plaque attached to the tower building.


If you’re not too tired, there are just two more places to take you. Follow me! [waves umbrella in the air]

First of all, lets take a look at what used to be the brush factory. On the map, this is letter ‘B’. Some snippets that mention the brush factory;

Edelman, then 24, took command of one of the revolt’s three groups of fighters, all between the ages of 13 and 22. His brigade included 50 so-called “brush men” because their base was a brush factory.

The second day of uprising, April 20, was like the first-heavy German attacks and stubborn Jewish resistance. A mine had been set in the area of the brush factory at the gate of Wolowa Street Number 6. When the SS reached the gate it was detonated; the ZOB reported that 22 Germans were killed.

By now [September 1942] the ghetto comprised: (1) The area of Tobbens’, Schultz’s, Rohrich’s shops–Leszno Street, Karmelicka Street, Nowolipki Street, Smocza, Nowolipie and Zelazna Streets up to Leszno; (2) The “brush-makers’ area”– Swietojerska Street, Walowa, Franciszkanska, and Bonifraterska Streets up to Swietojerska; (3) The “central ghetto”–Gesia Street, Franciszkanska, Bonifraterska, Muranowska, Pokorna, Stawki, Parysowski Square, and Smocza Street up to Gesia.

February 8, 1943
Globocnik signs a contract with the F.W. Schultz and Co., which provides that the Schultz fur production plant with 4,000 Jewish workers and the brush-making plant with 1,500 workers be transferred from the Warsaw ghetto to Trawniki.

Today the factory is the Chinese Embassy, which covers a huge area. Below are photos of the entrance and one taken looking down ul. Bonifraterska where the Embassy takes up the whole of the area to the right hand side behind the trees.


Finally, we visit the “ground zero” so to speak of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, which is Ghetto Heroes Square. The square is enclosed by four streets; Anielewicza (named after the leader of the ghetto uprising), Karmelicka (named after the Carmelite religious order), Zamenhofa (named after the Pole who invented the Esperanto language) and Lewartowskiego (named after a ghetto resident and founder of the Anti-Fascist Bloc).

Of all the ghetto landmarks that remain to be found, I have to say that this square is probably the least interesting, perhaps because it is the easiest to find. It is simply a large grassy square in the location of one of the main bunkers used by the Jewish resistance. It contains the main monument to the ghetto heroes, seen below

Arguably the most memorable moment in this location came on December 7th, 1970, when West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, did the “Warschauer Kniefall” and spontaneously knelt before the monument during his visit to Poland. Not something any German had been brave enough to do until then.

Looking to the future, this square is (possibly, one day) to become the site of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, as the billboard proclaims;

At present, all they have is the billboard, a website and a temporary exhibit (see below). The construction of this museum has been discussed ad-nauseam and is going nowhere fast. Plans come and go, promises are made and broken. This one looks a little more promising than past attempts but one can only assume there is some resistance to the idea in places where approvals or money are required.

In the process of preparing these posts, I’ve had a chance to see and read a lot about Jewish history in Warsaw and Poland generally. There’s no question that it is a rich and very long history with a violent ending, certainly worthy of one museum if not more. The fact that such a museum is not yet built, and the fact that so much of the ghetto history is incredibly hard to find and largely neglected has to tell you something about the attitude of the Poles towards the Jews. I’m not going to suggest anti-Semitism as that’s a bit too harsh but there’s certainly a great deal of apathy.

Let’s hope this or future generations will be better able to embrace and celebrate the shared history of these lands than their predecessors have been. It is my opinion that by including Jewish, German, Ukrainian and other histories alongside the more mainstream and currently acceptable history of “pure” Polish people (as in – Catholics), this country would become a far richer place in so many ways.

Read The Warsaw Ghetto (part 1)

Read The Warsaw Ghetto (part2)

Read The Krakow Ghetto

12 thoughts on “The Warsaw Ghetto (final – part 3)

  1. Scatts,

    there is not much to find in Warsaw because the whole jewish area looked like Hiroshima after 45. And in the 50 years of communism Poland had no money to build museums like this in Warsaw (Jews from the US of A or the German state could build such a museum anytime in Warsaw after WWII. Just look how much money the British state/Queen has spent for the Frauenkirche reconstruction in Dresden).

    here are some facts (you know them of course).

    -The Polish Warsaw castle was built 30 years after the war in 1974 (inside it was ready for visitors in 1988!). And the whole area behind the castle the so called “arkady kubickiego” http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkady_Kubickiego
    is still not ready.

    -The museum of the Polish Warsaw uprising was built in 2004. 60 years after the uprising.

    -The Polish Saski and the Bruhl castle will be rebuilt AFTER the jewish museum.

    Because NOBODY gave Poland ANYTHING for the reconstruction. There was no “marshall plan” or German money after 1945. Just read this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People's_Republic_of_Poland

    Poles had often nothing to eat during the last 45yrs after the WWII and it is really “irritating” (i am very friendly ;)) if someone explains the so called “apathy” with antisemitism…

  2. Pingback: The Warsaw Ghetto (part 2) « Polandian

  3. Pingback: The Warsaw Ghetto (part 1) « Polandian

  4. me – I suppose I should say five things in reply;

    1/ I obviously didn’t expect that much was going to be done about anybody’s museums prior to say, 1990. But there have been 18 years since, in which time an awful lot of money has flowed into Warsaw. A lot of it, Israeli.

    2/ The Castle exists today and the gardens at the back are well advanced. The Warsaw Uprising museum exists today. Work started last year on the Saski Palace, the only delay is the archaeology in the ground. The fountain in the park has been renewed. The Palaces opposite the National Theatre have been rebuilt many years ago. The old and new towns were of course re-built in the 50’s. The Jewish museum is still a pipe-dream. Prózna & Waliców are dumps. God only knows when there might be a History of Germans in Poland museum (not the ones who trashed the place, the ones who built large chunks of it).

    3/ I’m absolutely certain that the delay in building a Jewish museum has very little to do with finding the money. Where there’s a will……….

    4/ The parts of Jewish history that do still exist are hidden, badly (if at all) maintained and from what I can see largely ignored.

    5/ I don’t believe that “Jews from the US of A or the German state could build such a museum anytime in Warsaw after WWII.”. You can’t just turn up and build a museum in someone else’s capital city.

    I think the old line of what a hard time everyone had and how nobody helped the Poles might have worked in 1990, but it just sounds like a bad excuse today.

    And once more, I’m not saying that Poles are anti-Semitic but they do appear to be apathetic (not interested or concerned; indifferent or unresponsive) to things Jewish. There may be good reasons for that, I’m not going to examine those, but whatever ‘extenuating circumstances’ might exist, you can’t deny the reality.

    Reason – thanks.

  5. “And once more, I’m not saying that Poles are anti-Semitic but they do appear to be apathetic (not interested or concerned; indifferent or unresponsive) to things Jewish.”

    ———————————————————————————————

    Scatts

    The problem is that there are 1000000 jewish “things” in Poland. And all of them need money (yes money is important even if you do not believe it) And even if there is enough money, often the “things” do not belong to the Polish state and it is not allowed to renovate/change them. For example many buildings in the famous Piotrkowska street in Lodz or in the Praga district can not be renovated because now you have to find the former jewish (and Polish too) rightful owners (or their families) if you want do do something. And it is not so easy.

    here you can see some of the jewish “things”…

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=jewish%20poland&w=all

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=synagogue+poland&m=text

    Kirkut in Chelm 013

    http://www.lublin.jewish.org.pl/locations.html

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?s=rec&w=all&q=poland+korczak&m=text

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=lodz+jewish&s=rec&page=2

    And here just 3 of many, many polish/jewish activities…

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/52393399@N00/page10/

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=jewish+festival+krakow&m=text

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=jewish+prozna&m=text

    So ,as you can see ,there are thousends of buildings, synagogues, cementares which need time and money to be renovated . And you should not expect miracles. These things just need time and money.

  6. In case you’re not aware, the Jewish Historical Institute is also a museum. The new museum is only going to be its larger location. But they do hold exhibitions all the time, and actually they’ve been present since after the war.

    http://www.jewishinstitute.org.pl/en/home/index/0.html

    The building where the Warsaw Uprising museum is located was already there, so one can’t say that it was built fast. It stood there since before the war and it was only renovated. Actually, there were plans to raise a special building, and the construction started yet in 1994, but for some reason they couldn’t proceed, they abandoned that localization, and the museum was opened 12 years later where it’s now. Anyway, it’s the only museum opened in Warsaw during the last 19 years, and I do think it should have priority. One can go to see the above mentioned exhibitions, several concentration camps in Poland, or even to the Yiddish theatre to become acquainted with the history of Polish Jews, but the WU museum is the only place commemorating our resistance.

    However, the groundbreaking ceremony of the Jewish museum took place last year, the museum’s educational centre began its activity as well, and the building is scheduled for 2011. We’ll see whether they’ll make it or not, but I don’t think that 4 years is that long. I don’t know anything about money flowing to Warsaw from Israel, but the museum is going to be raised mostly from Polish funds. Only 20% will be covered by the Jewish Historical Institute and private donors.

    The Old Town, New Town and the Royal Castle were rebuilt by communists, but it took very long. The pattern there is the typical one though. The houses that are for private use were finished in the 1950s, but the Royal Palace that is for public use took over 30 years.

    I think that the only public building that was constructed fast was the Palace of Culture, otherwise everything takes that long. From bridges, via metro (that was started yet before the war) to museums of any kind.

    The Old Townhouse (the Palace opposite the National Theatre) was rebuilt by Citybank, and that’s why it’s done. Private investments take much shorter, and since we didn’t have money someone decided that the rich guys could get the precious land in the centre if they imitated the old houses. But it’s a private building, just like any new office building in Warsaw, and we can only look at it from the outside. Anyway, it took them 3 years to build it, but 6 to begin.

    The Saski Palace’s construction didn’t start yet. They only uncovered the old fundaments that they’re not going to use anyway. They allowed people to look at it now, suggesting that something is really happening there, but they’re going to destroy them once they start the construction. The Museum of Communism isn’t done (unless I somehow missed it, but I hear it’s to be done every year), the Museum of Contemporary Arts and the National Museum are being talked of since the 1980s, the Museum of Polish History is being talked of for some years now too, and I think it’ll cover our minorities as well, Germans et al. So I’d say that we’re indolent in general, but the Jewish Museum actually gets quite a priority.

    I can explain why the remaining parts of the Ghetto are so hidden though. Actually it wasn’t a communist idea only the Jewish architect’s who designed the living area there. He wanted them to be hidden and well incorporated into the city, with only hints on the old events visible. So the walls are fragmentary and hidden between the buildings, the houses stand on the small hills that are in fact ruins of the Ghetto covered with ground, and there is the monument. That’s how people were thinking back then. They didn’t want, or weren’t ready, for the martyrdom we lack today.

    On the other hand, almost entire Warsaw was built on ruins and people’s corpses, so the Ghetto part is slightly distinguished contrary to the rest. I think it also makes a difference to visit a place and live in a place. Warsaw is full of small reminders of the war, but generally it was meant to be a place for the living. We know what was where, and how many people died, but no one wants to live in a huge cemetery. At first they didn’t even mean to rebuild the city. There were plans to rather move the capital elsewhere. But then you wouldn’t have all the fun as a detective now. ;-)

    Very good findings by the way!

  7. Scatts,

    I think you chose the right word – “apathetic”. Indifferent, even better. I don’t think indifference can have reasons – good, bad or otherwise — It just is. Or retread your wonder: how come anyone is not indifferent about Sikorski’s death. (Incidentally, a history this old can still have fresh echoes, see an example.)

    – – – – – – –

    Sidetracked:

    Puzzled by the title “Conversations With The Hangman” of the book — the usual title in English is “Conversations with an Executioner” — I followed to your source of quote. To claim that Stroop was “the archetypal Nazi” is as justified as to say his predecessor, Von Sammern was a typical SS-man. Or that Nero was a typical Roman.

    Anyway. More on / from Stroop here — with photos and docs.

    See the photo: it’s ‘the Bandits’. A German document here (translated into English there) mentions “Juden und Banditen” or “Juden und Verbrecher” (the latter: “Jews and criminals”).

    I wonder what BANDITS may mean then. It was used by Germans “for partisans and armed underground fighters”. But:

    1) Did Germans considered combatant Jews as ‘bandits’, and non combatant Jews as (simply) ‘Jews’?
    2) Or were ‘the bandits’ Polish? (See English text here: “the Jews and the Polish bandits” for instance.)
    3) Or nationalities did not matter, a bandit’s a bandit?

  8. Me mentions that Warsaw will soon have some ‘Jewish’ skycrapers soon. What defines a ‘Jewish’ skycraper? Will it have a big banner saying, “Would it hurt to call your mother?” :-)

    If Me is using Jewish in a religious sense, I think he will find far more ‘Catholic’ buildings in Warsaw. So the ‘invasion’ has a long way to go yet!

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