Archaeological digs in the former Warsaw ghetto – on a site where underground Jewish resistance was based – have unearthed items including children’s shoes and pages from books in Hebrew and Polish.
The excavations, which began in early June and are expected to continue until the end of July, are coordinated by Christopher Newport University and Vistula University in collaboration with the Warsaw Ghetto Museum.
7 czerwca ruszyła kolejna tura badań archeologicznych i wykopalisk prowadzonych na terenie byłego getta przez Muzeum Getta Warszawskiego razem z zespołem naukowców z Christopher Newport University i Akademii im. Aleksandra Gieysztora w Pułtusku – filii AFiB Vistula. pic.twitter.com/Qvk77WNonK
— Warsaw Ghetto Museum | Getta Warszawskiego Museum (@WarsawGhettoM) June 17, 2022
They are centered on Miła, Dubois, Niska and Karmelicka streets in the Muranów district of Warsaw around a memorial mound named after Mordechai Anielewicz.
He was the head of the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB), based at 18 Miła Street, and was among those believed to have died there in May 1943, during the ghetto uprising that had begun the previous month.
“It’s a unique place because of the history that took place here in 1943,” Jacek Konik, an archaeologist and historian at the Warsaw Ghetto Museum who is leading the excavations, told TVN24.
“This is where the soldiers of the Jewish Combat Organization, surrounded by the Germans, probably committed mass suicide. Only a small group of people survived,” Konik explained. Archaeologists hope to uncover how people lived in the ghetto through the artifacts they find.
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A shoe found at the site likely belonged to a Jewish child around 10 years old, although nothing is known of its owner.
It is “a symbol of this place and of all the tragedy that took place here – both in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 and later in 1944 in all of Warsaw”. [during the Warsaw Uprising]…a symbol of all the children that someone didn’t let grow,” Konik said.
The brown leather slipper, made of cheap materials, was found early in the excavations. An even smaller shoe was discovered later, reports Gazeta Wyborcza. They have been sent for preservation.
Other items found by the team include written accounts of the events that took place at the site, the remains of a collection of burnt books, crockery and ceramic tiles.
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Archaeologists managed to preserve pages from some books – “after the charred pages came into contact with the air, letters appeared” – including Hebrew texts – probably passages from the Talmud – as well as a book prayer books and an unidentified Polish novel.
They are also investigating the possible size of a hidden shelter extending under a number of townhouses and with six entrances. The team managed to dig down to ground level of the cellars, where they found the artifacts.
Konik said all volunteers “interested in research and… who would like to help find and restore memory” are welcome to join the dig by sending an email. [email protected] Where [email protected]
“We treat it as a kind of social obligation for as many people as possible who may not necessarily be professional archaeologists to see and understand what kind of history we are dealing with…a history that affects us directly,” Konik added.
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The Warsaw ghetto was the largest of all those established by Nazi Germany during World War II. At one time he held approximately 460,000 Jews captive in an area of 3.4 km2 (1.3 sq mi).
The vast majority of these victims died in the gas chambers of Treblinka and Majdanek after their deportation from the ghetto. In April 1943, the ghetto uprising – the greatest act of Jewish resistance during the war – temporarily halted the deportations.
The uprising was brutally suppressed by the German occupiers, with tens of thousands of Jews killed in the ghetto or after being captured and deported to extermination camps.
A visualization showing the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto superimposed on the modern city.
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Main image credit: Warsaw Ghetto Museum
Ben Koschalka is a translator and editor-in-chief at Notes from Poland. Originally from Great Britain, he has lived in Krakow since 2005.