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