Jewish residence pre WWII.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Katarina Stoltz)
The streets of Warsaw are paved with a poignant Jewish past, waiting to
be explored. From the 14th century to the 20th century, from the prayer
rooms to the ghetto, Warsaw is a part of history, a part of Jewish
history. Modern Warsaw is full of tree-lined streets, trendy kosher
cafés and active Yiddish theaters. And with only a day here you might
not see everything but you'll leave with something.
presence in Warsaw can be traced back to the 14th century. Enduring
periods of expulsion and re-admittance, the Jewish community of Warsaw
Prior to World War II the Jews accounted for
one-third of the city's overall population. Sadly, the events of the war decimated Poland's Jewish population, wiping out over 90 percent
of Polish Jewry.
Begin a day of sightseeing in the borough of
Praga. During the 19th century the Praga area was the center of Jewish
life in the city.
At 31 Jagiellońska Street a round, masonry
synagogue was built by Józef Lessel in 1836. This was the most important
meeting place for Jews and was only one of only six circular buildings
in the whole of Europe. The synagogue was demolished a few years after
the war due to protests over the building's former use as a delousing
center by the Nazis. The site was turned into a playground and none of
the original structure remains. Nonetheless, this is Warsaw and a
certain amount of imagination is needed as many buildings did not
survive the War, especially Jewish ones.
centuries many of Warsaw's synagogues were small, private prayer
houses. In 1996 one such synagogue was discovered inside a row of houses
on 50/52 Targowa Street. Inside two of the houses frescoes depicting
signs of the zodiac, Rachel’s Tomb and the Western Wall were found.
Currently, the buildings are undergoing renovation, which is scheduled
to end in 2012. Once completed, an exhibition space will be housed
there. The site can be reached via Stafana Orkzei, a five-minute walk
Leaving 50/52 Targowa, it’s hard to miss the
Różycki bazaar at number 54. This was once Warsaw's premier bazaar that
did a thriving black market trade under Nazi and communist governments.
Today, the bazaar is run-down and a bit depressing. Due to the bazaar’s
historical importance it could be worth a glimpse but if you're not a
fan of polyester and general tack then you probably won't want to stay
After spending the morning in Praga, head into central
Warsaw for lunch. The Tel Aviv Café & Deli, on Poznańska 11, is
right in the heart of the city. This trendy café has a buzzing
atmosphere and serves up a range of modern meat-free kosher dishes. They
have a daily lunch buffet for 24.99 PLN. A second option is Rambam
Kosher Café & Restaurant on 4 Grzybowska Street. Here they serve
kosher meat dishes with a seasonal menu. The average cost is 80 PLN per
person for a three-course lunch.
For the afternoon, a walk around
the former Warsaw ghetto and a possible trip to the world's only
regular functioning Yiddish theater is a good choice.
Warsaw ghetto was the largest of all Jewish ghettos in Nazi Europe.
Established in 1940 the ghetto housed over 500,000 Jews during the
Holocaust. The ghetto has been demolished so the sites on view are only
monuments and remnants.
A good starting point for a walking tour
of the former Jewish ghetto is Ghetto Heroes Square.On April 19, 1943
resistance began by Polish Jews under Nazi occupation against the
deportations from Warsaw to the Treblinka concentration camp. Although a
brave act, such resistance was to be crushed four weeks later, on May
memorial, erected in 1989, is a brilliant structure, with statues of
groups that signify a heroic struggle and tragic loss.The central figure
is meant to be Mordechai Anielewicz, who was the leader of the Jewish
combat organization during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In his left hand,
he is carrying a torch, a symbol of his role in sparking the rebellion
against the Nazis.
The monument is part of the Path of
Remembrance, which is a walk through the former ghetto marked by 16
granite blocks commemorating those who lived and died in the ghetto and
the concentration camps. The Bunker Monument that marks the spot where
the uprising was coordinated can be found along the path. The walk ends
at the Umschlagplatz Monument, which means “taking-away place”. The
monument is at the site of the railways siding where so many Jews were
transported to Treblinka.
In the heart of the ghetto there is a
stall that offers a unique reminder of your trip; an official Warsaw
Ghetto passport stamp. The stall is located in the main square.
a thought-provoking afternoon, head back to the eclectic Poznanska
street for a taste of the new modern Warsaw. Here, at number 12, is the
Beirut Hummus & Music Bar. They offer outdoor seating and
traditional Lebanese snacks and beer. An evening meal is around 105 PLN
per person. If you're in town on the weekend it could be worth heading
back to the kosher Tel Aviv Café & Restaurant. They too have outdoor
seating and on Saturday nights they present a Middle Eastern flavor
with music, pillows, and water pipes. An evening meal here is around 100
PLN per person.
With food covered there is also the option to
visit the only regular functioning Yiddish theater in the world. Most of
the actors aren't Jewish but the plays are. Located at Plac Grzybowski
12/16, the theater cultivates the creativity of great Jewish drama.
Plays are dependent on the time of year and it’s best to check the
website to see what's on when.The Jewish Virtual Library contributed to this report.Follow Tanya on Twitter - @TPowellJones