|Ghetto wall marker - Warsaw|
The Warsaw ghetto was the largest in Europe holding about 400,000 people at its peak and surrounded by 11 miles of walls, most of them 10 feet high. When the Nazis liquidated the ghetto and wiped out the last remaining resistance members, they leveled everything inside of the walls. There are a few wall fragments left standing, but the Poles have placed markers on the streets and sidewalks to show where the wall once was. There are also monuments to those who resisted, and those who were deported and perished from the ghetto. Wherever you walk you find them. I also visited the Jewish Historical Institute (a co-sponsor of the IAJGS conference) which had a moving exhibit of documents from the Oneg Szabat archive. This was a secret record collected by Emanuel Ringleblum, a historian, and his collaborators, of day to day life in the ghetto in the beginning, and then a record of the deportations from the ghetto and testimony of those who had escaped other towns and camps of the destruction of Jews and Jewish life in Poland. Knowing that they were unlikely to survive, the members of the Oneg Szabat program buried the documents in metal boxes and milk cans, hoping that they would be found in the future and that people would know that the writers had existed. Two troves of documents were found under the rubble after the war.
|One of two milk cans containing part of|
the Oneg Szabat archive buried in
the Warsaw Ghetto and found after the war.
In the middle of what had been the center of the Ghetto is a monument to those who were deported and killed, and those who, in the end, fought and died. Facing that monument is the new POLIN museum. This award-winning museum celebrates the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland. The museum was also a co-sponsor of the IAJGS conference and provided speakers at the conference, and special events and tours at the museum during the conference. The main exhibition is beautifully done, filled with interactive displays illustrating the richness of Jewish life in Poland. The Shoah has its place in the story but does not overwhelm the larger sweep of history. A temporary exhibit focusing on the events of 1968 and how they affected the remaining Jewish population under the communist government brings the story up-to-date.
Warsaw was rebuilt at once after the war but as a dreary communist "paradise". Now many of those dreary buildings are being torn down and replaced with gleaming modern architecture. A new building called the Warsaw Spire, which was next to our hotel, was very striking and has won some European awards for its design. There is construction of new apartments, condos and offices everywhere. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.