Monday, 1 September 2014

Ghetto streets

This is where you have to use your imagination. The buildings of the Warsaw Ghetto, as much of the rest of the city, were totally destroyed during the crushing of the Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and the Warsaw Uprising the following year. The post-War rebuilding largely retained the street plan, though many streets have been re-purposed.

This was Nalewki Street, one of the busiest commercial streets of the old town, and an important meeting-place during the time of the Ghetto. At the far end of the street was one of the Ghetto gates through which those with permits could pass in and out.

It now runs through a pleasant park, with trees, flowers and a children's playground. All that remains of pre-War Nalewki are the tramlines.

Nalewki Street as it was then, from the other end

At this junction stood another gate to the Ghetto

The photo below is Chlodna Street, site of the Footbridge of Memory, looking between the posts that mark the site of the bridge, towards what was the central area of the Ghetto. Before the War this was the heart of the Jewish quarter of Warsaw.

Near Jana Pawla Avenue there is said to be a section of the Ghetto Wall still standing. I'm not sure if this is it - there is nothing to mark it here, no plaque, no sign. The Wall enclosing the Ghetto was some 17km (11 miles) long.

See this account of the remaining section of the Wall, with photos and a precise location.

This iconic building, on the corner of Prozna Street, is one of the few that remain from the time of the Ghetto. The photos of Ghetto inhabitants on the windows are a haunting reminder of the lives that were taken.

14 Prozna Street

There is an excellent account of the history of the building, with some superb photos, which gives an insight into the Jewish community in pre-War Warsaw, and the controversies in more recent times over the building's retention and restoration.

Door-post feet at 14 Prozna Street

Warsaw Ghetto - Scrapbookpages
The Warsaw Ghetto Today - What Remains

The Footbridge of Memory

Chlodna Street ran straight through the heart of the Ghetto, but Jews were not allowed to use it. The Ghetto was thus divided in two, and in order to get from one part to the other, Jews had to use this wooden bridge. The street itself is for Gentiles, the tram too.

The walls which form the boundary of the Ghetto are some 3 metres high. The Nazis used Jewish forced labour to build them, and to build the bridge as well.

A few years ago the Poles erected this memorial to the bridge and what it symbolised. Two pairs of metal poles stand where the bridge once stood, connected by optical fibres which at night light up to project an image of the bridge across the street. 

Photos of life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Photo and map of Ghetto from the Jewish Virtual Library

The Collection Point

The Umschlagplatz - 'Collection Point' - was where the Nazis gathered the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto for deportation to the Treblinka extermination camp. From July to September 1942, some 300,000 were deported. 

Along the walls of the memorial are inscribed hundreds of Jewish names, to commemorate those who were sent to their deaths from here. The names are symbolic as no individual records were kept - this was mass murder. We believe, though we cannot be certain, that some members of our family were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto from their homes in Gombin, about 100km away. They didn't survive the War, and may well have been sent to their deaths from here.

Amongst those that perished were my great-grandfather's sister Bajla, and my grandfather's sisters Chawa and Chaja, along with several members of their respective families.

In memory of Bajla Szwarc and Chaja Wandt

In memory of Chawa Florkiewicz

The Beginning of Deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto

A visit to the Warsaw Ghetto

Warsaw is a big, bustling, modern city, full of people, shops, traffic and imposing buildings. However, visiting for the first time, I found myself drawn day after day to the vestiges of the Ghetto, where the Nazis effectively imprisoned over a quarter of a million Jews during the Second World War.

The area designated as the Ghetto was a compact part of the old centre of the city, which had had a largely Jewish population for a century or so. In late 1940, the Ghetto was established by forcibly moving in Jews from other areas of Warsaw. At the same time Gentiles were moved out, and thousands more Jews were brought in from nearby towns and villages. The Ghetto quickly became overcrowded and insanitary, food was scarce, disease became rife. Jews were prevented from carrying on their trades and professions in the wider Polish society; they were not allowed to trade with Gentiles, sources of income dried up.

Then, at the end of 1942, the deportations began. Tens of thousands, eventually hundreds of thousands, were deported, some to forced labour camps, most to extermination camps. Resistance grew, and eventually surfaced in May 1943 in a full-scale uprising that took the Germans more than a month to put down. House by house, street by street, the Ghetto was destroyed, the buildings and whoever remained in them. A few managed to escape, but apart from these, a population of over 300,000 was wiped out.

It may well be possible to spend a week in Warsaw and not even be aware of this grim history, but there are many memorials, some big, some small, some obvious, such as museums and monuments, others less so, like street names or a stretch of the Ghetto wall. Some, like the line of the street that was once a crowded market-place, can only exist in your imagination.

Graffitti: The Ghetto was here

Warsaw Ghetto (Wikipedia)
Warsaw Ghetto Database
Museum of the History of Polish Jews

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, by Marek Edelman
Poems of Władysław Szlengel

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Ghetto Wall

A metal plaque draws a line through the cobblestones to mark where the Wall of the Warsaw Ghetto stood from 1940-1943. One of many chilling spots you keep coming across as you walk the streets of the city.

Today people cross this line without noticing, deep in contemplation or conversation; children play in the park, cyclists cycle and dog-walkers walk their dogs. Back then it was a line of life and death.

The path at the back that people are strolling along was Nalewki, the busiest market street in pre-War Warsaw. There are some wonderful photographs of it, full of bustle and trade, in the exhibition at the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which I saw yesterday.

And at the very back, in the park beyond the railings, they are excavating the site of the building that was the headquarters of the workers' organisation The Bund, where the resistance in this area of the Ghetto was co-ordinated by Marek Edelman, amongst others. Here is his account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in the course of which most of those not yet killed lost their lives.

Nalewki in the 1930s
photo by Roman Vishniac

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

A herd of gurdies

Cousin Mira's partner Ray with old gurdy-buddies Sam Palmer, Nigel Eaton and Cliff Stapleton, heads still buzzing after the Blowzabella do on Saturday.

Ray didn't play with BZB, but he will be playing the hurdy-gurdy solo for the live orchestral soundtrack to the 1927 silent film 'Napoleon' at the Festival Hall on 30 November. At least, that was his excuse for not coming to our Dansez Français Bal that night ...

And if you want confirmation of just how dangerous this instrument is, just look at Cliff's arm.

Cousin Report #27

There I was, at the Blowzabella do the other night, pretty much minding my own business, soaking up the music and sipping down the London Pride, when I was accosted by this woman asking "are you Michael"?

Well I couldn't really deny it, especially when she said "surname Shade?", and I'm glad I didn't because it turned out to be my distant cousin Mira. We had never met, though we did have a brief email exchange a few months ago, during which we realised we would both be going to the BZB do last night.

She's my great-grandmother's brother's second wife's great-grand-daughter - is there a word for that? She'd been googling for her grandmother, Mary Levin, and came across a photo I'd put up on Flickr a couple of years ago from a Walk I did around some of our Levin places in the East End: I'd tagged the photo with some of the family names, and Google spotted them.

It turns out she and her husband are keen on French traditional music, and he plays the hurdy-gurdy. The world, as they say in Spain, is a handkerchief.

BZB 35 - hit by a Wall of Sound

Blowzabella held their 35th Anniversary do at Cecil Sharp House on Saturday. A packed dance workshop in the afternoon, a four-hour music session in between times, and a non-stop 3-hour Wall of Sound in the evening, with a mix of old and new repertoires all unashamedly for dancing, which we did, unashamedly.

In the photo Jon Swayne and Paul James sing on the pipes, Jo Freya swings on the clarinet, and Grégory Jolivet hums to himself on the hurdy-gurdy. Not to mention Dave Shepherd on fiddle, Barnaby Stradling on bass, and Andy Cutting on melodeon - couldn't fit them all into this picture, but here they are below. What a band!

They brought on too many former members to mention them all here - but it did get rather special when Nigel Eaton, Sam Palmer and Cliff Stapleton were all up there gurdying away together.

There's a new CD - 'Strange News', as in "Strange news is come to town / strange news is carried", a line from the beautiful English traditional song The Blacksmith. If the record is anything like the live performance, it'll be a cracker.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Le Potager du Roi

While we were in Paris last summer, we went over to Versailles to see 'Le Potager du Roi', the King's Kitchen Garden, built for Louis XIV in the 17th Century. It's a few hundred metres from the palace - they must have needed a good few wheelbarrows to get all the produce into the kitchen every day! Nowadays they sell most of it in the little shop by the entrance. Only a few photos this time, as it started raining and I decided I'd be better off keeping my phone dry.

Le Potager du Roi

You wanted to reach out and pick those pears, and eat them there and then!

Jan took some photos as well ... The Potager has a website, it looks like it's in French only. And once again, I was prompted to upload the photos by seeing the programme 'Gourmet Gardens' in Monty Don's French Gardens series on BBC2.

Jardin du Prieuré d'Orsan

A couple of years ago we visited the Jardins du Prieuré d'Orsan, in central France. As usual I took loads of photos, but I didn't get round to uploading them until today, prompted by Monty Don's French Gardens programme the other night on BBC2.

Les Jardins d'Orsan

A couple of years ago we visited the Jardins du Prieuré d'Orsan, in central France. As usual I took loads of photos, but I didn't get round to uploading them until today, prompted by Monty Don's French Gardens programme the other night on BBC2.

So here they are. I'm not writing anything about Orsan, because Jan wrote a lovely post that says more than I ever could and in far fewer words, so I'm leaving it to her. Jan's photos are here - you'll recognise some of them from mine, but as usual her eagle eye spots things that I miss.

Orsan's website has some lovely pictures, though you might want to turn off the annoying chirping birds, and a fascinating gardener's blog - Blog du Jardinier - for those that can read French.

You can watch the Gourmet Garden programme in the French Gardens series via BBC iPlayer  - UK only, and you'll have to be quick, it's only available until 22 February.