The most precious Jewish monuments in Warsaw, such as the Nożyk Synagogue or the Okopowa Street Jewish, still serve the local Jewish community, but many of the material traces of this Europe’s largest Diaspora have been obliterated.
This is the only street of the wartime Warsaw Ghetto to have retained some of the original buildings on both its sides. However, those buildings endured over the long decades afterwards stripped of their façades, their windows blind and their walls exposed down to the red brick, emblems of the erstwhile Jewish Warsaw’s utter desolation. Now, life has returned to Próżna Street; its fine tenement houses have undergone comprehensive architectural renovation, once again becoming their stylish pre-war selves. Today’s Próżna Street, on the map of Warsaw, is a fashionable address again.
The Próżna Street tenements bearing the numbers 7 and 9 were designed by Franciszek Brauman, a leading architect of Warsaw’s upper middle-class of the late 19th century (among others, the author of Wedel’s tenement at Szpitalna Street). The renovated façades help us re-imagine the times when the corner house (at the 9 Próżna Street address) was inhabited by Zalman and Rywka Nożyk, the founders of the surviving Twarda Street Nożyk Synagogue.
The ghetto wall
Over a huge area of Warsaw, between Nowe Miasto and Plac Defilad, we will come across commemorations of the ghetto borders. A set of 22 panels designed by Eleonora Bergman and Tomasz Lec together with special tiles embedded in pavements and lawns marking the exact location of those borders form a monument.
At 53 Sienna Street, there is a preserved section of the ghetto wall, where the border ran between the properties of 53 and 55 Sienna Street. This wall section can be accessed from 62 Złota Street. Its fragments are also held by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and the Holocaust History Museum – Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The Chłodna Street footbridge
Before and during the Second World War, Chłodna Street was more of a major thoroughfare than it is today, which was why the Nazis decided to section it off from the ghetto. As a result, Warsaw had the large and the small ghetto: with the large one to the north and the small one to the south of Chłodna Street. The two separated parts of the ghetto were joined by a footbridge. Walks over that footbridge afforded many of the ghetto dwellers the only opportunity for looking at the other side of the wall.
The footbridge used to stand near the Under the Clock tenement at 20 Chłodna Street, which still stands today. This Art Nouveau building was, among others, the home of Adam Czerniaków, the president of Judenrat and the author of an incisive and disturbing diary of Warsaw Ghetto life. Czerniaków committed suicide on 23 July 1942 at the head office of the Jewish Community, at Grzybowska Street (the building no longer exists, its lot is presently occupied by the PZU office building at the corner of Jana Pawła II Avenue).
Central Judaic Library
Hidden behind the Blue Tower high-rise office building at Bankowy Square, the seat of the Jewish Historical Institute (3/5 Tłomackie Street) inspires the imagination. Nearby, the now deserted tree-planted alley behind the Archaeological Museum is all that remains of Nalewki Street, one of the busiest shopping streets of the 1920s and 1930s Europe. Whereas, Tłomackie Street was practically a square tightly built up with tenement houses, with the Great Synagogue being its main feature.
It was in this neighbourhood that the last rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Professor Moses Schorr lived. 13 Tłomackie Street housed the seat of the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Poland (it was at the initiative of that association that in 1927 the Yiddish language was accepted as a member language of the International PEN Club). It was at the initiative of Moses Schorr that construction of the Central Judaic Library building designed by Edward Eber began in 1927. With the library building completed, the project continued with the construction of the adjacent Institute of Judaic Studies, an institution that trained rabbis and teachers. Right after the war, the building housed the Central Jewish Historical Commission, which in 1947 was transformed into the Jewish Historical Institute.
Umschlagplatz is a German term for a transhipment yard. The 4/6 Stawki Street address was that of a railway ramp. Together with the adjoining buildings, it was used by the Germans for concentration of the ghetto inhabitants prior to their deportation to the Treblinka death camp. Beginning from 22 July 1942, day after day the place dispatched five to six thousand Jews. A commemorative monument designed by Hanna Szmalenberg and Wladyslaw Klamerus has stood here since 1988. The ingress to this dignified luminous semi-open form is crowned with a semi-circular headstone-like bas-relief with a representation of a shattered forest. Inside, the monument walls are covered with the chisel work of 400 Jewish names most common in pre-war Poland (from Aba to Żanna), as if calling by name the often anonymous victims of the Shoah.
Two monuments of the Ghetto Uprising
The first monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was erected soon after the war, at the initiative of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. It was unveiled before the third anniversary of the Uprising, on 16 April 1946. Though somewhat overshadowed by fame of the later built Ghetto Heroes Monument, its form is worth exploring: a round tablet sunken into the ground featuring the letter “Bet” as in Bereshit, the first letter of the first word in the first book of the Torah.
The decision to build the second memorial was adopted shortly after the first one was unveiled. The work was commissioned with the sculptor Natan Rapaport while Leon Suzin vested with the task of designing the architectural setting. The monument was funded by the Jewish world through subscriptions; one of the materials used in it is a Scandinavian basalt, from a supply hoarded by Albert Speer for future monuments to Hitler’s victory. Though its western part, which depicts the heroic struggle of ghetto fighters, is the more recognisable one, the monument has two exposures: the eastern one, facing Zamenhofa Street, commemorates the ghetto inhabitants’ martyrdom.
Jaktorowska is the name of a former section of Krochmalna Street. The building at what is today 6 Jaktorowska Street address was once an orphanage managed from 1912 by the eminent educator Janusz Korczak [Henryk Goldszmit, 1878-1942]. Once the ghetto was established, that orphanage was transferred to 33 Chłodna Street and subsequently to 16 Sienna Street. It was from there that in 1942 the children and their instructors were deported to the Treblinka death camp.
The Jaktorowska Street building is accessible to the public; it houses Korczakianum, a branch of the Museum of Warsaw engaged in the collection, research and dissemination of all materials which document the legacy of Janusz Korczak: his personal biography, his writings, the history of the institutions he established and helped create, and the lives of those of his inner circle. The institution assists the reception of the person and the work of Janusz Korczak in Poland and internationally.
The Kłopotowskiego Street mikveh
The mikveh of Kłopotowskiego Street was built between 1911-1914. The building formed part of a communal complex of the Round Synagogue, located in the Praga district. It has a two-storeys street elevation decorated with stone-like mouldings: cornices, window frames and pilasters. The interiors retain some elements of the original decor: the floors and the marble stairwell. After 1945, the building housed the offices of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. At present, it is owned by the Jewish Religious Community of Warsaw and houses the Jacek Kuroń Multicultural Humanistic High School.