Grzybowski Square is a place that attracts Varsovians and tourists alike. It is teeming with life and regaining its urban identity. And what is the history of Twarda Street, which many Varsovians see as a symbol of modern Jewish life?
The old Twarda Street was obliterated. Until the mid-twentieth century, however, it was one of the most important and busy streets in the city. Twarda Street that ran through Grzybów is one of the oldest roads, trails and paths of Warsaw. Roads that lead through wetlands were called ‘hard ones’ (in Polish “twarda”). It became the official name of the street in 1770.
17th century Warsaw was a cluster of closed off towns controlled by their owners. Small, private towns within the city were called ‘jurydykas’ and Grzybów was one of them. On May 30, 1650 King Jan Kazimierz confirmed the creation of Grzybów by way of the Location Privilege. Warsaw’s Governor, Jan Grzybowski, was the owner of Grzybów. Jurydykas differed considerably from one another. Jan Grzybowski’s jurydyka had an industrial character; already by the end of the 17th century 10 breweries and two mills operated within its borders.
By the end of the 18th century, buildings on Twarda reached Żelazna Street. Twarda was one of Warsaw’s main roads and also one of the widest. Fourteen brick houses and twenty four wooden houses and mansions stood along it. When engineer Kierbedź – the creator of the Warsaw’s bridge – later used iron pavements for the first time, strands of iron pavement were laid on the streets with the highest traffic. Twarda was one of the 12 busiest streets of Warsaw.
In the 1880s horsecars were introduced in Warsaw and one of the most important tramways ran through Twarda; and when in 1908 electric trams appeared on the streets, the first one, number 22, drove through Twarda.
Jewish life was present on this busy, urban street from the beginning of the 19th century. In 1815 a prayer house opened in a brick house (the land registry entry number 1080). In 1861, a legate of Aaron and Perla Serdyner presented the Jewish Community with a Deed of Donation, so the construction of a synagogue at 4 Twarda Street could begin. The same year the construction of the Church of All Saints started. The synagogue was given to the Jewish Community in 1927. During the Interwar Period there were 18 small, private prayer houses and two synagogues (the Serdner Synagogue and the Nożyk Synagogue) on Twarda Street. The Nożyk Synagogue was famous for its great Cantors. The Chief Cantor was Shlomo Hershman, who was awarded a position in Manchester in 1930. A famous Cantor Gershon Sirota was nominated the Chief Cantor of the Nożyk Synagogue in 1933.
The Nożyk Synagogue stood among ruins of the city which 80% was destroyed, where the Ghetto and the Northern District were levelled to the ground, and where almost all the Jewish Community was brutally murdered. In the Polish People’s Republic the area around Grzybowski Square became a center of the rebirth of the Jewish Community and Jewish identity. Today, many Jewish organizations – social, cultural and educational – are located in the area of Grzybowski Square and Twarda Street. Today 6 Twarda Street is the address of the Warsaw Jewish Community and the Nożyk Synagogue that belongs to it.