Tag Archives: Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

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

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The Warsaw Ghetto (part 1)

THERE’S MORE LIKE THIS ON OUR NEW SITE – POLANDIAN.COM

The Warsaw ghetto was a big place so it may take a while to get through all this. When I say big, I mean the biggest Jewish ghetto established by the Nazis in WWII, not big as in spacious. It held around 440,000 people, which was around 38% of the population of Warsaw in about 4.5% of the area. It was established in October 1940 by German Governor-General Hans Frank and destroyed in April/May 1943 by a very enthusiastic lunatic called Jurgen Stroop.

Here is the smoke caused by Jurgen’s hard work. (you can click all the photos here for bigger sizes)

By all accounts, the photo above was taken from a point close to where we live today and on my route home. Needless to say it looks nothing like the above picture, today. Here’s a sat-map to give you an idea of scale.

The yellow pin shows where the photo was taken from. Red is Arkadia shopping centre, green is Gdanski rail station and purple is the umschlagplatz. The area bounded by the yellow line is the rough outline of the ghetto, from where the smoke was coming.

We should be clear on “uprisings” as the word might come up a lot. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising happened between January and April 1943 and was action by Jewish armed resistance fighters inside the ghetto against the Germans when they started the final expulsion of remaining Jews. The Warsaw Uprising (or just ‘Warsaw Rising’) was between August and October 1944 and was action by the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa), also against the Germans. The German response to both uprisings was the same, kill people and destroy buildings. The Russians, who had been watching from the sidelines most of the time, finally arrived in January 1945 by which time Warsaw effectively didn’t exist.

The fact that there were, in effect, two struggles going on in the same city at the same time makes it very slightly more complicated for a tourist than it otherwise might be. The monuments and places of interest tend to overlap leading to some confusion if you’re not careful. There has been little, or no, attempt over the years to give the visitor a coherent picture of what happened, it is very much – here’s what happened to Jews and here’s what happened to everyone else. I think it’s a shame that either the Jews feel their dead are different to anyone else’s or the Poles think the Jews weren’t from Warsaw, or both. Maybe one day they’ll work it out.

To make matters worse, many of the ghetto “sights” are well hidden, so well hidden that I, as a long time Warsaw resident, had trouble finding them. Hopefully these posts will save anyone who’s not au fait with the city a lot of time and also ensure they don’t miss anything significant.

Let’s start the tour at the end, so to speak. The last point of contact between the majority of Jews and Warsaw was the “umschlagplatz”, the collection point from which they were shipped in trains to Treblinka extermination camp (yes, Treblinka, not Auschwitz).

On this fragment of a ghetto map the umschlagplatz is shown in purple colour. You can see the rail tracks leading away from it. I’ve marked the current location of Arkadia shopping centre for later reference.

Now here’s a sat-map of the same area today. Arkadia is in red again, yellow is existing rail tracks, blue is missing rail tracks. The green is the Gdanski rail station which can also be seen on the old map. The purple is the umschlagplatz and the arrows are the direction of my photos, further below.

I looked behind the umschlagplatz monument to see if I could find traces of the rail tracks but as you can see from the sat-map, everything has been redeveloped. This is a view today looking across what would have been a busy loading area

Taking a similar view in 1942 you would have seen this, with thousands of people being transported every day

Here’s the view of the umschlagplatz monument today, on ul. Stawki.

The buildings going down the street adjacent to the rail terminal used to be a hospital and were used by the Germans to hold prisoners pending transportation to the death camps.

This is a photo of Jews being taken to the umschlagplatz. Judging by the smoke in the background, this was during or at the end of the ghetto uprising.

Inside the umschlagplatz there is a lot of writing on the walls.

The comment in English reads – “Along this path of suffering and death, over 300,000 Jews were driven in 1942-1943 from the Warsaw ghetto to the gas chambers of the Nazi extermination camps.”

I have not done any research on who else might have been transported out of Warsaw to an uncertain fate from this terminal. The terminal was outside the ghetto so it was certainly accessible for general use and one has to assume there were non-Jewish sufferers as well. If there were, they go without comment.

Just as an example of the mixing of Jewish and other history in the same place. About ten yards to the right of the umschlagplatz is a plaque on the wall, the arrow points to it in this photo

This is what it says – “1st August 1944. In the first hours of the Warsaw Rising, after heavy fighting with SS units, 75 soldiers of the Kedyw Kolegium “A” AK – Armia Krajowa special operations commando under Lt. Stanisław “Stasinek” Sosabowski – captured this building and freed 50 Jewish prisoners. The building had formerly been the umschlagplatz, the place from which hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to their deaths. In this action, the Kedyw Kolegium “A” came into the open for the first time after a long and bitter clandestine struggle in the underground. Henceforth it would face the German enemy along a combat route stretching from Wola, Stawki and the Old City to the city centre, Czerniakow and Wilanowska street. This plaque was set up on the 46th anniversary of the rising in order to pay homage to both our fallen comrades and to the heroism of the unit as a whole.”

Lastly, for part 1, is a fantastic example of what I was saying about not being able to find anything. The point of interest is known as “Miła 18”. Miła 18 might be something you’re looking for because you’ve read the book, or just because it is a famous landmark in the history of the Warsaw ghetto. It is famous as the headquarters of the Jewish Fighting Organisation and the burial place of Mordechaj Anielewicz, the leader of the uprising.

So, off we go. Set the sat-nav to Miła 18 and it will take you here, to the apartment of Pani Kowalska.

That can’t be it, you think, so you spend 20 minutes scouring every inch of this end of ul. Miła without finding anything that looks remotely like a monument. You check the map again and find that Miła has two parts, one where you are and the other on the opposite side of Aleja Jana Pawla II. You spend a while driving around to find the other half of the street, get out and find a cute old sign a short distance down from JPII, for Miła 17

Must be getting close, you think, so you spend a while longer hunting at this end of Miła. To no avail. Almost at the point of giving up, you decide to walk to the far end, beginning actually, of Miła, just in case. You’re in luck! Miła 18 is actually directly opposite this

Natch!

Flushed with your newly found navigational skills you finally get to check out the monument. (The height of the mound is meant to be the height of the rubble that was left after its destruction)

From the top looking down to the entrance (not on ul. Miła of course!) complete with two Israeli tourists and tour guide. Well, they were speaking Hebrew at any rate.


The small stone they were standing by….

…..gives us our last inscription for this post – “Graves of the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto uprising built from the rubble of Miła Street, one of the liveliest streets of pre-war Jewish Warsaw. These ruins of the bunker at 18 Miła Street are the place of rest of the commanders and fighters of the Jewish combat organization as well as some civilians. Among them lies Mordechaj Anielewicz the commander in chief. On May 8th 1943, surrounded by the Nazis after three weeks of struggle, many perished or took their own lives refusing to perish at the hands of their enemies. There were several hundred bunkers built in the ghetto. Found and destroyed by the Nazis they became graves. They could save those who sought refuge inside them yet they remain everlasting symbols of the Jews’ will to live. The bunker in Miła Street was the largest in the ghetto. It is the place of rest of over 100 fighters, only some of whom are known by name. Here they rest, buried where they fell, to remind us that the whole earth is their grave.”

Read The Warsaw Ghetto (part 2)


Read The Warsaw Ghetto (final – part 3)

Read The Krakow Ghetto

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