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From ¯ydowska street to Umschlagplatz (1)

Jacek Leociak


Nalewki str. before I World War     "I know that the Jews have disappeared from Warsaw, but I cannot truly imagine it. When I say: 'Warsaw,' in my soul's eye I see the old, Jewish Warsaw. I see Jewish streets, vendors' stalls, synagogues, houses of study, marketplaces, courtyards full of Jewish inhabitants. Despite what I know, I cannot present Warsaw judenrien nor Jewish streets as heaps of rubble," wrote future Noble Literary Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer in July 1944 in the New York Yiddish newspaper Forverts.

     The life of a capital city has now taken the place of rubble where there were once the Jewish streets. Shop windows reflect the glass silhouettes of new buildings, the faces of colorfully dressed passers-by and busy streets. Standing in the middle of the urban traffic and tumult are we aware that not so long ago (for 60 years is not millennia) Jewish Warsaw existed here for centuries as an indivisible part of the urban fabric? Do we remember that inter-war Warsaw was the largest Jewish city in Europe and the second in the world, after New York; that Jews made up 30 percent of the capital's population? And what is it like today? Some 400 people are members of the Jewish Community in Warsaw (revived in 1997) and around 6,000 are registered with the Jewish Religious Association. The total number of Jews residing in Poland is estimated at 10,000 to 15,000.

Corner of Ch³odna and ¯elazna str., 1941     The Warsaw Jews have disappeared irretrievably, their Warsaw was destroyed irrevocably. Singer still had the images of people and places from before the Holocaust before his eyes. All that is left for us are a few fragile material traces, inscriptions, documents and testimonies - the legacy of surviving memory.

      "Historic Jewish Places in Warsaw" is a guide leading us along paths wiped out by the destructive force of time, crime and forgetfulness. For the first time the history of the Warsaw Jews has been presented in the form of a guidebook, inspired in layout and editorial style by the finest traditions of the Paskal series. The enclosed timeline presents the most important stages of the Jewish presence in Warsaw, and the core of the publication are comprehensive descriptions of 54 locations linked with the history of Warsaw's Jews, presented in alphabetical order. The guide is richly illustrated and includes a map on which these places are marked, to help at least in part to perceive what Singer saw in his "mind's eye." A separate map shows the streets from the time of the Warsaw Ghetto with the street grid of contemporary Warsaw superimposed on it, along with the fragments of surviving buildings, which effectively conveys the scale of the destruction and vastness of topographic changes that this part of the city underwent after the war. With this map in hand you can follow in the footsteps of the Warsaw Jews in the most tragic period of their history.

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