A valuable discovery in the Jewish Historical Institute building

Marks left by a fire, which broke out in the building of the Main Judaistic Library after the destruction of the Great Synagogue on 16 May 1943, are still visible on the floor in the main hall of the building at Tłomackie 3/5. A recent renovation revealed that it’s not the only testimony of the tragic events from 75 years ago...

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Grzegorz Kwolek

During a renovation, which has been taking place due to preparations to an exhibition What we were unable to shout out to the world, dedicated to the Oneg Shabbat group and the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, we have made a very special discovery. We managed to reach wooden elements of the ceiling, which were charred in the fire of 1943!

How was it possible, that the wood wasn’t completely burned and managed to survive until present day? Construction engineer Radosław Gralak explains: „the ceiling in the entrance hall is, in its central arch, a reinforced concrete slab construction. I believe that the the wood wasn’t entirely burned, because the reinforced concrete ceiling block provided a fairly successful barrier against the flames, while the charring was caused by a very high temperature”.

The fire which began after the explosion in the Great Synagogue, entered the building of the Main Judaistic Library – currently the Jewish Historical Institute. It is proven by discolourations caused by high temperature, still visible today. In order to prevent further destruction of the floors and to strengthen it, we decided that it should undergo specialist conservation.

Before the war, the current building of the Jewish Historical Institute was the home og the Main Judaistic Library and the Warsaw Institute for Judaistic Sciences. Between November 1940 and March 1942, it was located within the borders of the Warsaw Ghetto. It hosted subsequently: the Jewish Self-Help headquarters, a temporary location for Jews forcibly resettled from Germany, and a storage room for furniture stolen in the ghetto. Here, also the secret meetings of the Oneg Shabbat (Hebrew for „The Joy of Sabbath”) took place. The group, directed by Emanuel Ringelblum, collected comprehensive documents of life and extermination of Jews in Poland during World War II.

On 16 May 1943, to mark the quashing of resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto, SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Jürgen Stroop ordered to blow up the Great Synagogue. It was intended as a symbolic act of „the final solution of the Jewish question” in Warsaw. Despite the fire, the Main Judaistic Library wasn’t fully destroyed. New authorities of Warsaw assigned it to the Central Jewish Committee in Poland. After a thorough renovation, the building became a home for the Central Jewish Historical Commission. In 1947, the Commission became the Jewish Historical Institute, which remains at Tłomackie 3/5 until present day. The most valuable part of the Institute’s collection is the Ringelblum Archive, found in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1946 and in 1950.


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