May 16, 1943. Destruction of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw

Written by: Jewish Historical Institute
The Great Synagogue in Warsaw existed for a very short time, less than 65 years. Its ceremonial opening took place on September 26, 1878. Its blowing up by SS troops, which suppressed the ghetto uprising, was meant to symbolize the end of Jewish Warsaw.

Ruins of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw


In 1872, Tłomackie Square was purchased by the Synagogue Committee and its construction committee. The design and construction was commissioned from Leandro Marconi, considered the outstanding and most expensive Warsaw architect of the time, author of such buildings as Bank Handlowy [Trade Bank] at Traugutta 7 Street or Pałac Pod Karczochem [Marconi Palace] in Aleje Ujazdowskie [Ujazdów Avenue] as well as co-builder – together with father Henryk – of the Hotel Europejski at Krakowskie Przedmieście Street. After the demolition of few pre-existing 18th-century buildings, works began. The construction took two years and the resulting facility could accommodate 2,200 people. The synagogue held not only usual services, but also special patriotic services on important national holidays, such as May 3 and November 11. A room occupied by a servant became the Main Judaic Library, which in 1936 moved to a new building at Tłomackie 5.

In January 1940, the Germans closed the synagogue. Sinc 1942, they used it – as the neighboring building of the Main Judaic Library – to store furniture stolen from Jewish homes. The blowing up of the synagogue, after long preparations, was to be a symbolic end to the Jewish presence in Warsaw. The act of destruction was personally carried out by the executioner of the Warsaw ghetto, SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, on May 16, 1943. ‘Walls and stones were flying up to Długa Street to the Arsenal,’ wrote Henryk Kroszczor, an eyewitness, ‘and book fragments and pieces of paper to the neighboring street.’ ‘The only mementos of the most eminent Jewish building in Warsaw are a part of the column and a cloakroom number,’ wrote Jan Jagielski.

After the war, the synagogue was not rebuilt – in the 1960s the construction of the Blue Skyscraper was commenced, and the new building was completed in 1991.

Model of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw, Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv
Sodabottle, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.


Rabbi Baruch Steinberg, head of the Main Office of Judaism Chaplainship, reads out the names of fallen soldiers in front of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw, June 25, 1933. National Digital Archive
Jewish Historical Institute