Jewish cemetery, Warszawa
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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The first written records of Jewish presence in Warsaw date back to the beginning of the 15th century. The life of the community was concentrated in the area of today's Rycerska Street in the Old Town.

In 1527, after the incorporation of Mazovia into the Crown, Sigismund I the Old granted to Warsaw de non tolerandis Judaeis privilege. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Jews lived in privately owned tracts of land at the outskirts of the city, belonging to the nobility and clergy. During the reign of Stanisław August, the pace of the influx of Jewry to Warsaw accelerated sharply; they were also granted the privilege to settle in Praga district. After the Third Partition the city became part of the Prussian Partition. The new authorities abolished the ban on the settlement of Jews. In 1799, Jewish inhabitants were granted a privilege to establish a community. At that time, over 9,000 Jewish people lived in Warsaw (10% of the total population). In the period of the Duchy of Warsaw, the special quarters (rewiry) were delineated in less representative districts of the city (Wola, Powiśle, Praga, Powązki), where Jews were to move (this regulation was in force until 1862). Under Russian rule, the Jewish community of Warsaw underwent great expansion, which was also caused by the influx of Litvaks - Jews from the present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia and Ukraine. Several hundred thousand Jews were crowded in the so-called North District, often in their own world, symbolized by the Nalewki Street. On the eve of World War I, the Jewish community in Warsaw numbered 340,000, constituting 38% of the total population. In reborn Poland, its capital continued to be inhabited by the largest Jewish community in Europe, the centre of their political, economic and cultural life. In 1938, despite the increase in the number up to 370,000, the percentage of Jews (still concentrated mostly in the Northern District) among Warsaw residents dropped to 29%. From autumn 1939, the community was subjected to brutal persecutions by the German occupant. They culminated with the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1940. About 400,000 people were crammed in it. They were decimated by hunger and disease. In the summer of 1942, more than a quarter of a million Warsaw Jews were transported to the Treblinka extermination camp. In April 1943, in the face of the final liquidation of the ghetto, an uprising led by the Jewish Combat Organization broke out. Following its bloody suppression, the Jewish quarter was razed to the ground. After the war, the Jewish community initially numbered over 20,000 people. The vast majority of survivors left Poland in the 1940s and after the anti-Semitic campaign in 1968. Jewish life in the capital had not revived until the 1980s. In 1997, the Warsaw Jewish Religious Community was reactivated.

The Jewish cemetery in Warsaw at 49/51 Okopowa Street, known before the war as the cemetery at Gęsia Street, was created on the initiative of the Warsaw Jewry in 1806, as the chronologically third Jewish necropolis in Warsaw. At the same time, Chevra kadisha funeral fraternity was established to manage the cemetery area. The oldest preserved tombstone commemorates Sara - daughter of Eliezer - who died in 1807. From the beginning of its existence, the cemetery, due to high fees, became the burial place for wealthier people, while the poor buried their dead in the cemetery located in Praga district. Nevertheless, quite quickly the cemetery turned out to be too small. Its area was progressively expanded by buying nearby land (1824, 1840, 1848). In the years 1877-1878, an impressive building designed by Adolf Schimmelpfennig was erected, housing a synagogue and separate funeral rooms for men and women. The burial area was divided into male and female quarters as well as orthodox and reformed sections.

During World War II, the cemetery became the burial place of thousands of people who died or were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. They were buried in a huge, mass grave. The cemetery was occasionally a place of executions carried out by Germans. Unlike other cemeteries, the necropolis in Wola district was not completely destroyed by the occupant. Germans blew up only the pre-burial house with the synagogue. The subsequent devastations took place during the Warsaw Uprising. For several dozen years after the end of the war, the necropolis had more and more fallen into ruin. With time, cleaning works began at the cemetery, which was listed in the register of monuments in 1973. They were carried out, inter alia, by the Nissenbaum Foundation and the Social Committee for the Care of Cemeteries and Monuments of Jewish Culture. Since 2001, as a result of the restitution process, the cemetery belongs to the Jewish Religious Community in Warsaw and is still used for burial purposes.

Currently, the cemetery at Okopowa Street covers an area of 33.5 hectares and is considered one of the largest Jewish necropolises in the world. It is estimated that a quarter of a million people were buried there, including around 100,000 victims of the Warsaw Ghetto. As a result of inventory work, over 80,000 matzevot have been identified. The Jewish necropolis in Wola constitutes an exceptionally rich gallery of sepulchral art. Apart from the traditional matzevot and architecturally simple ohels, tombs of a sophisticated form and high artistic values started to appear.

The Jewish cemetery at Okopowa Street is the burial place of many outstanding figures. There are the graves of Warsaw industrialists (Lesser, Bergso, Wawelberg and Fajans families), booksellers and publishers (Orgelbrand, Glücksberg and Mortkowicz families), writers (Icchak Leib Perec, Sz. An-ski), doctors and scientists (Zygmunt Kramsztyk, Ludwik Zamenhof, Samuel Dickstein), outstanding rabbis and tzadikim (including those from Zwoleń, Warka, Mogielnica, Mszczonow, Radzymin), historians (Szymon Askenazy, Majer Bałaban, Marian Małowist), social and political activists (Adam Czerniakow, Marek Edelman), artists (Aleksander Lesser, Józef Seidenbeutl, Ester Rachel Kamińska). The cemetery also includes the quarters of soldiers of the Polish Army who fell during the defence of Warsaw in 1939. The participants of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were also buried there. The Monument to the Memory of Children-Victims of the Holocaust and the Monument to Janusz Korczak have been placed near the entrance to the cemetery.

Owner of copyrights to the description: POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

General information

  • Type: Jewish cemetery
  • Chronology: 1806 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Okopowa 49/51, Warszawa
  • Location: Voivodeship mazowieckie, district Warszawa, commune Warszawa
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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