Hey everybody! My name is Bryce Pierce, and I am a senior health and PE major from Decorah, IA.
Today we had the opportunity to go on a guided walking tour in the city of Warsaw. Throughout this tour we stopped and talked about different areas, specifically buildings that remained from WWII. Warsaw was home to one of the most well known ghettos, but a large part of the buildings no longer stand. You can see a map of the old ghetto. The green lines represent the boundary lines, the buildings in orange still stand today, and the buildings in gray were destroyed in the uprising. On April 19, 1943, over 750 Jewish fighters living in the ghetto revolted against the Nazis.
Before the war, 3,000,000 Jews lived in Poland. By 1968, only 15,000-20,000 Jews remained in Poland. Today, it’s estimated just 3,000-5,000 Jews still live in Poland. It is difficult to determine an exact number of Jews in Poland today based on how they are counted (ethnic roots vs. Jewish roots). Many Jews were assimilated into Polish culture and converted to Catholicism, but because of the Nuremberg laws, they were classified as Jews. Over 2,000 of those who converted still lived in the Warsaw ghetto. At it’s peak in November 1941, 450,000 Jews lived in the ghetto. The ghetto consisted of 3% of the city, but 33% of the Jewish population. Many of those who lived in the ghetto died of starvation and disease. Over 300,000 people were deported to the Nazi death camp Treblinka where they were murdered in a gas chamber.
Before we came on this trip we watched the movie “The Pianist.” It’s based on a true story about a family who lived in the Warsaw ghetto. We stood in an area today where families were brought before they were deported to Treblinka, just as we saw with the family in the movie. It’s difficult to imagine many families spoke their last words to their family members in this area without knowing their future.
Additionally, we read an article by Joanna Michlic about remembering the Holocaust and how that has played and continues to play a role in Polish national identity. Many Jews and Poles struggle to determine their identity today because of their unknown past.
There were memorials all over the city. One was a representative of the foot bridge that existed connecting the two sides. There was a large and small ghetto. The bridge went over Chłodna Street. This street connected other roadways with the main town square, and Nazi soldier training was performed here, too. On the ground near this memorial (and other parts of the city) a person will stumble across stretches of pavement symbolizing where the ghetto wall used to lie. If a person is able to read the words written on the ground they are outside the ghetto. But if a person sees the words upside down they are inside the ghetto. This expresses the feelings of being inside the ghetto. At times people were confused, and other times they struggled to understand what was going to happen with their lives. Additionally, it represents life being tougher than it needed to be.
In an article we read before our trip by William Miles he wrote “Therefore, any Holocaust memorial must bridge the existential gap between the here-and-now of the tourist and the event of more than half a century prior. It must convert the memorial thing into a live memory.” The bridge memorial did a wonderful job of making us as tourists picture the real thing. We can’t imagine what the ghetto inhabitants thought or felt, but for a brief moment we were able to picture the everyday struggle.
We ended our day exploring the Holocaust exhibit at the P.O.L.I.N. Museum. Much of what we were able to read in the exhibit was like what we heard from our guide during the day. We were able to interact with the displays and dive a little deeper into certain information. The location of the museum is inside the former ghetto and a place where the uprising started.