The Remains Of Jewish Warsaw, (Poland)
“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire
Before World War ll, the city of Warsaw had more Jews than the city of New York. After the Holocaust and decades of Communist rule, Poland is mostly Roman Catholic. There is a generation of Poles, that have recently found out about their repressed Jewish heritage. It is a nation with a complicated history. Many are making serious strides to remember the Jewish past.
In 1940, to create the Warsaw Ghetto – the largest Jewish ghetto in Europe during WWII – the German authorities built 18 kilometers of brick walls around the Jewish quarter.
Over 400,000 Jews were imprisoned there. At least 240,000 people were deported to Nazi extermination camps, while thousands of others were killed in the Ghetto.
The wall was torn down in 1943, except for one short section which is the only part of the original wall that stands today. (memorial with names)
The inscription reads: “Tu byl mur getta” “Here was the wall of the ghetto”.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 was an act of Jewish resistance against the deportation of the remaining Ghetto population to the Treblinka extermination camp. The revolt was suppressed and the district demolished. On its site now stands the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews that explains the Jewish history and culture in Poland.
The POLIN Museum is one of the most powerful museums to visit in Warsaw.( after four hours here)
The layout of the museum is very unique. First, you enter through the forest. This represents the forests near the Vistula River. Here Poles first made connections with Jewish merchants.
Then you go through the Middle Ages, where history appears in frescoes. You follow the Jews of Poland through the 15th and 16th centuries.
In the Town gallery, you can explore Jewish settlements of the 17th and 18th centuries. The roof and polychrome ceiling replica from a 17th-century synagogue crowns the gallery.
The museum is very interactive.
Various galleries present different aspects of Jewish history and culture.
Stroll through synagogue interiors and streets in old Jewish quarters with cafes and cinemas.
You can see where Jewish people congregated before the war.
The section covering World War II and the Holocaust is completely overpowering. Be ready to spend several hours at this museum.
Opposite the POLIN Museum, stands the Ghetto Heroes Monument, which commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 and the thousands of people who lost their lives. It was designed by Leon Suzin and sculpted by Nathan Rapoport in 1948. Ironically, the stone used in the monument had been brought to Warsaw by the Nazis to build a victory tower. There is an exact copy of the monument in Yad Vashem, Israel.
The front side of the monument, entitled is “The Fight”. Its bronze relief depicts men, women, and children armed with grenades and bottles of petrol, while the central figure represents Mordechaj Anielewicz, the leader of the Uprising. The back side of the monument, entitled “March to Destruction”, depicts the anguish of women, children, and the elderly, as they march to their deaths.
Near this monument stands a memorial tablet to the Ghetto Heroes, as well as the statue of Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter. The monument has an inscription in Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew, which reads: “The Jewish People in honor of its fighters and martyrs”.
Completed in 1902, the Nozyk Synagogue is the only surviving synagogue in the Polish capital. It was reopened in 1983 and serves the small Jewish community in Poland today.
The 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. On May 8, 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 not save those who sought refuge inside them, yet they remain everlasting symbols of the Warsaw Jews’ will to live.
The bunker at Miła Street was the largest in the ghetto. The inscription in Polish, English, and Yiddish reads: “Grave 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.
I will never really understand how these things happened in the world. It is our human obligation to visit these sites to remember what can happen again in the future.
Two members of our group spent the last afternoon in Warsaw in an antique shop in the old city. On a shelf in the corner they saw an old Torah scroll, probably belonging to one of the Jews in the ghetto. They bought it. The cover is from the late eighteen hundreds. It is difficult to put into words, the extraordinary feeling when you realize that you are seeing something holy from a society that you thought was gone forever.
I would like to thank Karolina Paczyńska our Warsaw tour guide who also traveled with us throughout Poland. Her knowledge, kindness, sense of humor, organizational skills and nothing is a problem attitude helped make this trip special. It seem like it would be hard to be a guide on a trip like this where everyone is having a different kind of emotional experience. Karolina made it easy. I highly recommend her as a tour guide.