History

The Jewish Historical Institute is a kind of institution, rare for Warsaw, that can be proud of its genius loci, its „spirit of place,” because it is fortunate to be located in a building with its own historical traditions.

Before the war, the building was the headquarters of the Main Judaic Library and of the Institute for Judaic Studies. The latter, opened on February 9th, 1928, became the first Jewish research and educational center in Europe which, alongside theological studies, also took into account secular studies. In that modern institution, rabbis, preachers, teachers of the „Mosaic” religion for both public and private schools, but also employees of Jewish communities and Jewish public organizations were educated. 

The building of the Main Judaic Library was built adjacent to the Great Synagogue at Tłomackie Street. The designer of the Library building, erected in the years 1928–1936, was Edward Zacharias Eber. In a harmonious way, the building corresponded with the Great Synagogue, and the resulting architectural complex was a true gem of the capital landscape. The designer of the synagogue, built in the years 1876–1878, was Leander Marconi. 

During the war, our building was one of the centers of Jewish social life in the Warsaw ghetto. The collections of the Library back then numbered 30,000 volumes. In December 1939, the collections were removed by the Germans. The majority of the books was lost forever. After the creation of the Warsaw ghetto, the library building lay within the ghetto borders. Here the Jewish Social Self-Help, the only Jewish organization that had permission to function from the German occupying authorities, had its headquarters. 

From November 16th, 1940 until March 1942, the Library buildng was within the ghetto borders. Here the literary evenings, theater performances, meetings for children and symphony concerts took place. In addition, there took placeconspiratorial meetings of the Oneg Shabbat (Hebr: Joy of Sabbath) which, under the direction of Emanuel Ringelblum was gathering comprehensive documentation of life and the extermination of the Jews in Poland during World War II. 

On May 16th, 1943, as a sign of the suppression of any resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, the SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Jürgen Stroop orderedthe dynamiting of the Great Synagogue and torching of the Library building. By doing this, he symbolically achieved “the final solution of the Jewish question” in Warsaw. Traces of the fire are visible on the floor of the main hall of the Institute until this day. 

Warsaw's new government allocated the burned-out building to the Central Committee of the Jews in Poland which, afterthorough restoration funded by the Joint (an American Jewish aid organization), housed here their Central Jewish Historical Commission. The Commission took care of saving the memory of the Polish Jews, including gathering in the building the surviving remnants of their cultural heritage: books, archives, Judaica items, paintings, sculptures, etc.

In 1947, the Commission was transformed into the Jewish Historical Institute, which is located in the building at 5 Tłomackie Street until today. The most precious of all the collections of the Institute is the Ringelblum Archive, which was found in the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto in 1946 and 1950.

The building of the former Library is a sign of the multidimensional spiritual and intellectual life of Jews before the war and of spiritual resistance during the war, and it is a witness to the death of a community and to attempts to revive it since 1945. Today it serves to preserve, recreate and promote the heritage of Polish Jews and their memory.

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