Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


What Lay Here Before

Warsaw’s newest museum rests on the site of the former Jewish ghetto

Print Email
Museum of the History of Polish Jews.(Abigail Miller)

This looked different in July 2010.

“On this site rises the Museum of the History of Polish Jews,” the sign on the chain-link fence read when I was last here. Behind it lay only a construction site, but the ambitious institution-to-be was already pulling no punches about its gravity and importance. Its mere location was already deeply significant—inside the former Warsaw Ghetto, the largest in occupied Europe, and directly across from the ghetto fighters monument, Nathan Rapoport’s large-scale memorialization of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The marketing worked; I was struck by the enormity of the project. The site was massive, with structural beginnings springing up mechanically from the ground. The building’s still-undefined innards, coupled with the omniscient tone of the sign identifying the building, suggested an almost biblical arrival. From the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, quite literally, was emerging an institution dedicated to not just the Holocaust, but the entirety of Jewish life in Poland.

But like anything built on the infamous site, the project was mired, existentially and physically, in its past. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the largest Jewish revolt during the Holocaust, lasted for 27 days before the Nazis reestablished control over the ghetto, killing resistance fighters and setting fire to buildings, many of which had people inside. The Nazis murdered approximately 7,000 Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the last 50,000 ghetto residents were sent to concentration camps. The remaining ghetto was eventually razed, and after the war new buildings went up. Some parts of the former ghetto, though, like the land on which the museum was eventually built, lay fallow—flat, field-like expanses that served, unofficially, as grim memorials.

Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, enlisted the help of a Rabbinic supervisor as construction crews began digging the ground to build the museum. Though gruesome, human bones not an uncommon discovery around there. Just a few weeks ago, Schudrich told me, workers repairing a burst pipe inside the former ghetto area came across human remains. Just as he did then, Schudrich, along with the Rabbinic supervisor, oversaw the removal of the bones and swift reburial in Warsaw’s Jewish cemetery. The site chosen for the museum, it seems, was all too appropriate.

Today the Museum of Polish Jews makes its grand entrance into Warsaw’s cultural landscape as part of the official commemoration ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The ceremony, taking place this morning on the cobblestone plaza between the museum and the monument, with its two large stone-carved menorahs solemnly ablaze, solidifies the museum’s prominent, and quite intentional, positioning in Warsaw’s Jewish narrative.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

What Lay Here Before

Warsaw’s newest museum rests on the site of the former Jewish ghetto

More on Tablet:

Blum’s Day

By Yale University Press (Sponsored) — Sociologist Pierre Birnbaum says it’s time Léon Blum—French Socialist, Zionist, wartime hero, and prime minister—got his due