To the Heroes of the Ghetto

 

When you are at the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial just look around you. You will find many interesting memorials as the world famous memorial created by Nathan Rapaport and Leon Suzin is just one way we pay our respect to the heroes of the Ghetto. For example, every year, around 19th of April you are going to see a lot of daffodils in the area of the former ghetto. We decorate the city with the yellow flowers to show that we remember about the Jewish fighters from WWII.

Let’s begin with the name of the famous memorial. It is called To the Heroes of the Ghetto or the Rapaport Memorial – as Nathan Rapaport (or Rappaport) was the author of the sculptures. It was created in 1948 and since then has witnessed many important events: this is the very spot where Willy Brandt (Chancellor of Federeral Republic of Germany) knelt down in 1970 in a gesture of penance and humility. BTW, there is a memorial to that event and it is located at the other end of the square.

What’s interesting, there is another memorial built next to the famous one. In fact, the decision to build a monument to the Ghetto fighters was taken in 1944. As a consequence, the first small memorial, designed by Leon Suzin, was unveiled in April 1946. You can see it today, it is located a few meters from the Rapaport Memorial, but it is much less impressive. Look for a simple piece of red limestone in the shape of a circle, with a palm leaf, the Hebrew letter bet and an inscription written in Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish.

 

There are some interesting photos from the unveiling ceremonies at the core exhibition of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The museum itself was opened in 2014 and since then has been considered one of the best of its kind. For example, in 2016 it was rewarded with European Museum Academy Award, but it’s best if you see it for yourself. The building was designed by Rainer Mahlamäki, an architect from Finland.

In spring, in the vicinity of the memorials, you can find flowers with a special meaning. For example the Irena Sendler red tulips named after a nurse and a social worker who saved 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Then, there are a lot of yellow daffodils: some planted and some just laid in the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters and their last commander – Marek Edelman. He used to leave a bunch of the spring flowers on the Rappaport Memorial every April, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1943 Ghetto Rising. This is why daffodils have become symbolic flowers for the Jewish fighters from WWII; just look at the temporary mural by Andrzej Wieteszka created in spring 2017 in the city centre.

In between flowers and stones and in front of the entrance to the Polin Museum, you can find medium-sized, dark blocks of stone. They are part of the Memorial Route of Jewish Martyrdom and Struggle in Warsaw 1940 – 1943. The stones, placed there in 1988, will lead you towards the Umschlagplatz Memorial. It’s not easy to read what was written on them, but if you focus, you will be able to discover names and events important for the history of Jews in Warsaw.

Our service:

We provide guiding services in the Polin Museum. Tickets for individual visitors can be bought both on line and in the Museum. Group visits must be booked via the Polin Museum official website (no more than 25 pax in a group). On request, we can assist you with the booking.

Jukebox, Jewkbox! Music in Polin Museum

Warsaw and all kinds of music: classic, pop, folk, dance, indie rock – all that in one exhibition and with a Jewish twist. Here are some photos from a special meeting for the Polin Museum guides…

“Only the empty sleeves” -Hanno Loewy, the curator of the exhibition, has informed us, just at the entrance. So, you can’t buy any records at the exhibition or take any as a souvenir but you can listen to them all. Moreover, there is a very illuminating exhibition catalogue published by the museum.

As for the exhibition, there are some topic areas: the row of old gramophones to give you some timeline, a huge collection of the EMPTY sleeves – to present different kinds of Jewish music in the 20th century, the comfy listeners area to offer you a place to sit and just enjoy the music. Of course, there is a special Polish Jewish music zone as well. Make sure you go up to the mezzanine – there is a stage waiting and a kind of a multimedia introduction to the contemporary Jewish music and musicians in Poland.

Have fun and enjoy as much as I did! The exhibition will be open until 29.05

Praga and its Jewish heritage

The original hideout where a Righteous Among the Nations family was hiding Jews during WWII, two prayer halls and a glimpse of a pre-war city. The stories and architecture of the eastern part of Warsaw inspired Hollywood directors and local street art artists.

For years Praga in Warsaw (the district on the eastern bank of the Wisła river and not the capital city of the Czech Republic) has been considered an area off the beaten track and a place known only to the locals. And yet, there is a lot to discover. What should you expect?

First of all, if you know the Warsaw city centre – be prepared for a total change in urbanscape. Even a short walk in the Praga district will give you an opportunity to enjoy Warsaw from the pre-war times. This part of the city wasn’t as destroyed as the western bank of the river. Some areas are truly neglected, some has been given a total makeover, but it is a district almost without the communist imprint.

Secondly, the Jewish heritage sites are mostly linked with every day life of the pre-war Jewish Community in Warsaw. There are two small Jewish prayer halls you can visit (today a part of the Praga Museum) and the oldest market place in Warsaw called Bazar Różyckiego. We will show you the Auxilium Academicum Judaicum student house where Menachem Begin, and other Jewish students, lived while studying at Warsaw University. There is a majestic complex of the Michał Bergson Jewish orphanage and dormitory. Both buildings were designed by Henryk Stifelman, an eminent Polish Jewish architect active in Warsaw in 1920s.

Last but not least, visiting the Warsaw Zoo can be an absolute highlight of your stay in Warsaw. You will find there the original, pre-war villa and home of Antonina and Jan Żabinski, the director of the Zoo. Their biographies have inspired writers and film-makers. During WWII, the whole family, the young son Ryś included, was involved in the resistance. They decided to use empty cages and enclosures for hiding people, arms and ammunition. This is how they helped many Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. In the villa you will see the original hideouts prepared by Mr and Mrs Żabiński and you will be able to learn more about this amazing gentile family of the Righteous Among the Nations. 

What happened in the Warsaw’s zoo is the actual true story behind The Zookeeper’s wife: a novel by Diane Ackerman and a movie by Niki Caro. By the way, the film’s location was Praha, the capital city of the Czech Republic, not Warsaw… But some streets of the central Praga were used as a location in other films. For example, Roman Polański shot there some scenes of The Pianist –  another real WWII story about Władysław Szpilman, an extremely talented Jewish musician, who stayed and survived in Warsaw during the German occupation.

Our service:

We prepared 3 hours walking itinerary in the central part of Praga. There is an entrance fee to the Praga Museum – a local historical museum of the district, and the prayer house entrance is included in the Praga Museum ticket.

There is an entrance fee to the Zoo and the Żabińskis villa. The visit may be arranged in the mornings and early afternoons. It takes approximately 1 hour.

Spring in Warsaw: flowers and their secrets 

There are more than 67 city parks and gardens in Warsaw. However, they are not the only place to look for signs of spring. There are spring flowers and vegetables on the markets while the city gardeners are busy with new plants on the streets. And some of the flower beds have a special meaning!

Magnolias are the first ones: in the yard of the University of Warsaw or at the old entrance to the Wilanów Palace. You can find them blossoming in March and April. In May, all the horse-chestnut trees are in bloom! They are not edible, but fun in autumn when you can make a toy figurine out of their nut-like seeds and a few matches. In spring the trees are a nice view for adults and visitors, but an omen of uncertain future for high school students – the final exams are scheduled for the first weeks of May.

During a city walk, you can find Irena Sendler red tulips named after a nurse and a social worker, who saved 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. That variety was created by Jan Ligthart, a bulbgrower from Breezand in the Netherlands. He has been growing and creating new flower bulbs all his life since he was 13 years old. There are other Jan Ligthart tulips bearing Polish names, such as violet the Chopin’s Prelude, which can be found in the Royal Łazienki.

In April, you are going to see a lot of yellow daffodils. They are very popular spring flowers, but some of them are planted in memory of the Warsaw ghetto fighters and their commander – Marek Edelman. He used to leave a bunch of the spring flowers on the Rapaport Memorial to the Heroes of the Ghetto every April, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1943 Ghetto Rising.

Last but not least, there are some more flowers named after Frederic Chopin. There are at least two kinds of tulips: the violet one created by Jan Ligthart and the another lemon-yellow, lily-shaped variety called simply the Chopin tulip. What is more, there is a rose named after the pianist as well. The nicest flower bed with the Chopin roses is located at the back entrance to the composer’s birth place in Żelazowa Wola. The rose was created in 1980 by an important Polish breeder Stanisław Żyła and it is quite a tall bush. Actually, the mature Chopin rose is taller than the composer himself, as he was 170 cm while the flower can grow up to 2 meters. It starts blossoming in June.

Our service:

The city’s parks and gardens like the Royal Łazienki, squares with the Warsaw Ghetto monuments or Frederic Chopin and his Warsaw – these are some of our city walks itineraries where you can find spring flowers. Go to Warsaw section for more sightseeing ideas.

Jewish heritage in the city centre

Before the WWII Warsaw was practically a bicultural city, as the Jewish community was so large and active, both culturally and socially. The war changed the city on an unprecedented and drastic scale, but there are still some traces of the pre-war heritage you can visit.

In the city centre of Warsaw, an itinerary for half a day or a day long visit includes for instance: the Nożyk Synagogue, the Jewish cemetery and the monuments commemorating the Ghetto such as the Umschlagplatz, Mila St. and the Memorial to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto. After the sightseeing, we recommend a visit in the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Having more time for sightseeing you can go to the Warsaw University Campus, as it is the place where many Jewish political leaders have studied such as David Ben-Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Israel) and Yitzhak Gruenbaum (the first Israeli Internal Minister in Ben-Gurion’s cabinet). The Old Town is a Jewish heritage site as well; it was home to the oldest, medieval, Jewish community in Warsaw. Today, it is the touristic centre of Warsaw, so you will find a lot of souvenir shops there. After a day long exploration of the Jewish past and present, you can also consider having some rest in one of the city’s parks like the Royal Łazienki with the scenic Frederic Chopin Monument.

Our service

We can provide guiding services in all the above mentioned places.

The sightseeing of the Jewish historic sites located in the city centre takes time due to the distances. It requires a private transport or taxis to save time. It is possible to use public transport but the tour will be longer due to the city traffic.

tickets and bookings:

  • There is an entrance fee to the Nożyk Synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery.
  • For a larger group it is obligatory to book entrance to the Nożyk Synagogue in advance. On request, we can assist you with the booking.
  • The visit to the POLIN Museum is not included. An average visit takes 2-3 hours and we recommend visiting it before or after the sightseeing tour. Tickets to the POLIN Museum must be booked and bought at the Museum ticket office or official website. On request, we can assist you with the booking.

 

Treblinka

Treblinka II was a Nazi German extermination camp established in summer of 1942. It existed for over a year – in late summer of 1943 the camp buildings were completely destroyed and the ground was turned into a farmland.  Planning your trip there? This is what you should expect.

Firstly, during WWII there were two camps located in close proximity, this is why the Treblinka Holocaust site is known as the camp number 2. Today in both sites you can see memorials and information boards with necessary explanation and photos from WWII.

As for the Treblinka II Memorial, it was designed by three artists: Adam Haupt, Franciszek Duszenko and Franciszek Strynkiewicz and was built in 1959 – 1963. The boundaries of the camp are marked by pillars of granite, and there is a symbolic “camp ramp” with “rail tracks”. The tall Memorial shows the location of the new gas chambers and behind it, there is a rectangular hole filled with black basalt to indicate the place where the corpses were cremated. The camp was built on an area of 17 hectares and, as far the size is concerned, it can be compared with the Auschwitz I (20 ha), while the Auschwitz II – Birkenu Museum grounds cover 171 hectares.

What is more, it seems impossible to estimate the exact number of people killed in the Treblinka II death camp. However, it is believed that probably between 700,000 and 925,000 Jews were deported there. Undoubtedly, regarding the number of victims, Treblinka II was the second largest extermination camp – after Auschwitz I and II. Today, around the big, matzevah-like Memorial, there are 17 000 granite stones with 221 names of different towns engraved, as the Jews murdered in Treblinka were deported from many ghettos, for example Warsaw, Radom or Białystok. The only exception was made for doctor Janusz Korczak.

The Memorial to the victims of Treblinka extermination camp is one of the most important sites for the history of Holocaust in Mazovia region. There is also a small museum where you can see a reconstruction of the Treblinka II camp, maps, photos and some artefacts found during excavations.