Little is left of the Warsaw ghetto after it was flattened by the Nazis following an uprising 70 years ago

A few buildings, some cobblestones, a synagogue: almost nothing remains of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto set up by Nazi Germany in World War II. Only a chunk is left of the wall that isolated around 480,000 of the capital’s Jews before the Germans deported most of them to their deaths.

“The Germans completely demolished this neighbourhood,” said Jacek Leociak, co-author of the “The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City”. They razed it after crushing the Warsaw ghetto uprising, when a few hundred young Jews decided to take up arms against the occupying Germans.

A year and a half after the ill-fated revolt, which took place 70 years ago, the Nazis flattened the rest of the city after a second doomed uprising by the Polish underground.

No idea of the ghetto

The ghetto’s few surviving houses stand on the streets Prozna, Chlodna and Sienna, which were incorporated into the rest of the city after the ghetto purge of 1942. With its coat of white paint, the five-storey residence at Chlodna 20 looks newer than its neighbours despite being one of the ghetto’s rare buildings still standing today. “Oh God I had no idea this was the ghetto,” said Bozena Falkowska, who has lived at the address since 1965. “I knew the ghetto started just a couple metres from here, but I had no idea our building was part of it,” she added. Another relic of World War II’s largest Jewish ghetto is the Nozyk synagogue, which survived because it was used by the German army as a warehouse and stable. Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich said running the still-active synagogue is an honour. He recalled how the notoriously brutal German commander Juergen Stroop ordered Warsaw’s Great Synagogue to be blown up at the end of the ghetto uprising to mark his “victory over the Jews”. Dotted around the area are memorials to the time, including the Umschlagplatz monument that stands where Jews were rounded up to be taken to Treblinka. From July to September the Nazis dispatched around 300,000 Jews by train to the Treblinka death camp east of Warsaw.

The Monument to the Ghetto Heroes nearby, where in 1970 former German chancellor Willy Brandt fell to his knees in a plea for forgiveness for the war, faces the Museum of the History of Polish Jews today. The museum opens on Friday as a reminder of the rich 1,000-year Jewish presence in Poland.

“After five years of war, the city didn’t have the means to rebuild the neighbourhood…” Leociak said, adding that new buildings were built from blocks of ground-up rubble. So while it’s true that on the surface nothing remains of the ghetto, below the buildings… you’ll find its roots, with thousands of buried victims. They will rest there forever.”AFP