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Warsaw Completes Ghetto Project

    Poland’s capital recently marked the completion of a massive restoration project that marks the borders of the former Jewish Ghetto that was walled in by Nazis occupiers during World War II.


     The mayor of Warsaw, along with the minister of culture, inaugurated the project that included 21 new information points along the boundaries of the former Jewish Ghetto. The project also placed a beige line, labeled “Ghetto Wall,” along the city streets that outlined the furthest reaches of the Ghetto’s borders.


   The line snakes along sidewalks and around apartments and offices, broken only when it reaches roads or tram lines.


    Paid for by the city of Warsaw and the Ministry of Culture, the project was launched last year by a team of historians.


    “When you ask people in Warsaw about the Ghetto, they can tell you about it and have an idea of where it was,” said Tomasz Merta of the Ministry of Culture. “But in reality, nobody could tell you how big it was and how it was a huge prison in the heart of the city.”


    Varsovians  (people that live in Warsaw) can now easily find the line running along several major streets near downtown and curling around what is now the Jewish cemetery.


   “Now it’s here, and we can see it and touch it. And it’s very difficult to remember because of how hurtful it was,” Merta said, “but at least now we can remember. This is our responsibility.”


   Until now the only reminder of the Ghetto #20 Wall was a small section that was preserved at 60 Zlota Street. But even that historic monument was in the back of a building’s courtyard and if you didn’t know where to look for it a person would have a hard time finding it.

 

 


Last remnant of the original Ghetto Wall at 60 Zlota St.

 


     Another participant in the ceremony said that until now people in Warsaw had been able to just forget about the Jews and the ghetto by not going to the Ghetto Park and monument. Now they have a tangible marker that traverses the center of the city that many thousands of people will see on a daily basis. It cannot be ignored.”


     Nazi officials cut off the Jewish Ghetto from the rest of the city on November 16, 1940. At its broadest circumference, the ghetto wall enclosed 307 hectares (approximately, 760 acres).


    Some 360,000 Warsaw Jews and 90,000 from other towns were forced into the ghetto, according to the city of Warsaw. Some 100,000 people died of hunger.


     “It’s not only important to Warsaw, but it’s a universal lesson about memory,” Merta said.


     The inauguration ceremony included a bus tour that took people along the former borders and stopped at the information points that marked important sites or events in the ghetto’s history.


    A crowd of project officials, local residents and historians went along for the trip. Older residents recalled the disquiet in the city when the wall was first built.


    “Nobody was sure if their house would lay in the ghetto, or where the borders would be,” said historian Jan Jagielski, author of a book about the Ghetto. “Walls had been built earlier, and people were worried that there would be a ghetto. From November 16, people couldn’t leave.”


    Jagielski, a non-Jewish historian, who is a leading authority of Jewish history in Poland, lead a group of mostly elderly women through a park and wondered at how modern Warsaw sits atop borders that are gone but not forgotten.


    “This is all real and unreal,” he said. “That we’re here walking, through these streets.”

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September 1, 1939 is the date on which Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. While it should be said that the start of the war was not the start of the Shoah, which actually began with the rise of Nazism in 1933, it was a major milestone in the annals of the Holocaust. Within the first few days of the war, Germany had conquered and/or bombed much of Poland, including the capital, Warsaw.

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Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

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