The Warsaw Tourist Office published a great set of walking tours to explore Warsaw Judaica. Today we spent the whole day, walking through what was the Warsaw Ghetto, learning the history and thinking about Ellen’s grandmother’s family.
From the guide: “The outbreak of World War II marked the end of the world known so far to the Warsaw Jews. Occupation authorities ordered them to wear the Star of David, and outlined the area where they could live. In October 1940, the Germans established a ghetto and locked 350,000 people identified as Jews behind its walls. Jews crammed into the ghetto were decimated by disease, hunger and increasing repression by the Nazis. On July 22, 1942, the Germans started the so-called “Great Deportation” of the Jews to the death camps. After the deportation, tens of thousands of people remained in the ghetto. There was a decision on armed struggle. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising broke out on April 19. 1943. Jewish fighters were not adequately equipped or trained, but still they put up prolonged resistance. The result, however, was doomed. The symbolic gesture of suppression of the uprising was blowing up the Great Synagogue on May 16, 1943.”
For a city mostly destroyed in World War II, Warsaw still has glimpses of what life was like during that time. Warsaw was 1/3 Jewish at the time. 90% of the Jews died in the ghetto of starvation or disease, or were murdered by the Nazis here or in concentration camps. And this was only 70 years ago. Impossible to comprehend.
We started by finding the street Ellen’s grandmother’s family lived on, Sliska Street, right near a present day mall. We then started the walking tour, finding remnants of the ghetto walls in a courtyard between apartment buildings.
In other places, you saw traditional remembrances of stones and yahrzeit candles.
Like in Berlin, there are markings on the ground where the ghetto walls stood.
We visited the Jewish Cemetery, which dates back to 1806. It alone is a testament to the history of Jews in Warsaw. It is unlike any cemetery I have been to. I included a post of a number of pictures separately. Here is a representative view.
There were a number of other memorials we saw along the way.
We ended the tour on a positive note One synagogue, the Nozyk Synagogue survived the war. We walked all around the building, and finally found an open door. The attendant told us we could enter for 6 zloty each ($2). We walked in. I went to the pulpit and recited the Shehecheyanu and the Shema. Nazis may have killed millions of Jewish Poles, but a Jew from Bethesda was standing in a synagogue there again.
After 13.5 miles on Ellen’s FitBit and an emotional day, we decided only a burger would do. Warsaw is full of burger places, but Brooklyn Burgers get the best reviews. So that’s where we ate. Exhausted from two full days of walking, we are hoping to sleep well, before renting a car and moving on tomorrow.