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Warsaw Judaica

Do you know that before the World War II Warsaw was one of the largest centres of Jewish culture in Europe? Jewish traditions were evident at every step from everyday life to architecture, art and literature. Discover the colourful world of Polish Jews and learn about their history from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The museum restores the memory of the rich, 1000-year history of Polish Jews from the Middle Ages to modern times. Look out for the unique architecture of the main hall, which in its shape resembles a gorge symbolising the passage of Jews across the Red Sea on the way to the Promised Land. Stop at the reconstructed vaulting of the 17th-century synagogue in Gwoździec and admire this example of how synagogues in Poland were painted. See also an interactive exhibition that will take you on a journey through the ages, for example along the streets of the pre-war Jewish quarter.

The monument was created shortly after the World War II to commemorate those who fought and died in the Warsaw ghetto. It was at this monument in 1970 that the German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt in apology for the crimes committed by the Third Reich.

The Umschlagplatz monument is located in the place where in 1942 Jews were transported to the Treblinka extermination camp. The shape resembles the walls of the ghetto and a railway wagon, and more than four hundred names of victims are engraved on the walls. Walk from the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes to Umschlagplatz along the Memorial Route of the Martyrdom and Struggle of Jews and pay attention to the commemorative stones depicting the history of the most important figures of the Warsaw ghetto.

This historic place of rest contains beautiful tombstones and traditional matzevot. Many eminent persons are buried there, among them the founder of the Esperanto language Ludwik Zamenhof and the writer Ischok Leib Perec. Visit the symbolic grave of Janusz Korczak, the protector of children who during the World War II was murdered in Treblinka along with the children in his care in a gas chamber.

Before the war, this historical building housed the Main Judaic Library and the Institute of Judaic Sciences. During the war, it was the office of Jewish Social Self-Help Organization. In 1947, after reconstruction, the building became the headquarters of the Jewish Historical Institute. Look at the priceless documents from the underground Ringelblum Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto stored here. The archive is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Visit the only synagogue in the capital that survived the Holocaust period. It was founded by Zalman ben Menashe Nożyk, a wealthy textile merchant, and his wife Ryfka. The Nożyk Synagogue was built in the Neo-Romanesque style. During World War II, the building served the Germans as a stable and feed store. Go to Próżna street, one of the few places where the atmosphere of Jewish Warsaw has been preserved.

Go to the courtyard between Sienna and Złota streets to see fragments of the Jewish Ghetto wall. In the city centre, also pay attention to the iron slabs set in the pavements that set out the boundaries of the former ghetto.

In 1942, a wooden bridge was built over Chłodna street connecting the ‘small’ and ‘large’ ghetto. Today, in this place you will find a multimedia art installation The Footbridge of Remembrance about the tragic events of that period. It looks most impressive in the evening.

Nalewki Street was the centre of the Jewish community in Warsaw. Stalls, workshops, wholesalers and various geszefty, or businesses run by Jews, were located in tenements that were crammed together. During the war, Nalewki was inside the ghetto and was razed to the ground after the fall of the Ghetto Uprising. A small fragment of it has survived to this day, starting next to the Arsenal, and stretching along the fence of Krasiński Garden. The cobblestones, along with the original rails on which trams full of people once ran, are reminders of a street that once brimmed with life…

In May 1943, Jewish fighters were looking for any kind of evacuation route out of the ghetto. Sewage channels were already tried-and-tested routes. A group of fighters, led by Marek Edelman, entered the sewers at Franciszkańska Street. However, with no knowledge of the complex system, they could not find a way out. A rescue expedition was organised by their colleague, Kazik Ratajzer, who led the group to the manhole at 51 Prosta Street and organised transport to a safe hiding place. There is a memorial at the site of these events. Go and see it for yourself!

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Jewish fighters and civilians sought shelter in bunkers, or rooms hidden under buildings. The Germans gradually discovered them and cornered the defenders. The commander of the Jewish Fighting Organisation, Mordechai Anielewicz, was hiding, along with 120 insurgents in one such bunker at what was then 18 Miła Street. The group was discovered by the Germans on 8 May 1943 and most of its members committed suicide. There is a memorial mound at the site, along with plaques.

The dramatic events in the Warsaw Ghetto were successively described and documented by historian Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oneg Shabbat organisation he founded. Hundreds of documents, drawings and descriptions were then hidden in metal boxes and milk cans and buried in the cellars of the now-defunct house at 68 Nowolipki Street. Found after the war, they are now priceless historical testimonies. A monument commemorating the archive and the work of its creator was erected at the site where the Ringelblum collection was hidden.

The permanent exhibition “Called by Name” presents the fate of Poles who helped Jews during the Second World War, paying the highest price for it. Here you will learn about ordinary people who, when faced with dramatic choices, acted with courage, generosity and solidarity. Here, each has their own story told in the context of family and local community. Look out for archival documents and photographs, objects belonging to those commemorated, and listen to interviews with their families. To better understand the circumstances under which they helped, read about the terror machine to which the people of occupied Poland were subjected.

Learn about the extraordinary story of the house located in the Warsaw Zoo. During World War II, the zoo director, Jan Żabiński, and his wife hid Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. Their story was depicted in the Hollywood movie The Zookeeper’s Wife starring Jessica Chastain as Antonina Żabińska.

On Kłopotowskiego Street, there is a brick building built between 1911 and 1914. It is Warsaw’s only mikveh, or ritual Jewish bath. The building survived the war in good condition, but unfortunately, its original furnishings have not survived. The building is now home to a high school.

Right next door you will see the original fence of the former Praga Synagogue. The site is now occupied by a kindergarten playground, and the hill you can see there is a pile of rubble from the building. The synagogue was built in 1836 and was one of Europe’s first circular synagogues. It survived the war, but its condition was so bad that it was demolished in the mid-20th century.

The former Educational Building of the Warsaw Old Jewish Community is one of the best-preserved Jewish buildings in Warsaw. Until 1940, it housed an orphanage and a school for children. After the war, the synagogue inside was converted into a theatre, where performances of the Jewish Theatre were held. It is now home to the Baj Theatre.

Take a walk along Brzeska Street, which was mostly inhabited by Jews before the war. Stop in front of number 21, where you will find the sign for a tailor shop painted on the wall. Now imagine that each of these buildings housed businesses like this and the whole street bustled with the sounds of daily work, commerce, conversations, games, and arguments of a community that no longer exists.

The interiors of the house of prayer, located in the current Museum of Warsaw Praga, stand out among the remains of the Jewish community in Praga. The two surviving rooms, where prayers were held until 1940, contain polychromes from various periods. One of them – Jews praying at the Western Wall – is known to have been painted between 1933 and 1934. After the war, the polychromes were painted over only to be rediscovered in 1996. Newly restored, they bear witness to the rich religious life of Warsaw’s Jews.

It is the oldest surviving and largest Jewish cemetery in Warsaw in terms of the number of people buried there. Founded in 1780 on the initiative of Szmul Zbytkower – the court banker of the Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowski, it was the final resting place for primarily poor Jews. Before you enter the depths of the cemetery learn about its dramatic fate by visiting the exhibition “Bejt almin – the house of eternity,” located in the pavilion at the entrance. You will learn about Jewish funeral customs and find out why the historic cemetery is now reminiscent of a huge tombstone repository.
Walk along the main avenue and you will see sections with sandstone tombstones and plates in front of them. On the sides there are enormous steel baskets filled with pieces of broken matzevot, or Jewish tombstone, brought from various places in Warsaw. Set in a circle at the end of the alley along with the tombstones, they form a symbolic mausoleum in honour of the thousands of dead buried here.

Take advantage of licensed guides and take a walk to see the traces of Jewish Warsaw. More information at warsawcitybreak.com