The last breath — about the demolition of the Great Synagogue

Written by: Jewish Historical Institute
On 16th May, 1943 not only the most impressive synagogue in Warsaw but also the entire Jewish district ceased to exist.

On 16th May, 1943 not only the most impressive synagogue in Warsaw but also the entire Jewish district ceased to exist. The demolition of the synagogue was a symbolic act of the triumph over the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which had been ongoing since 19th April 1943.

The person responsible for the bloody suppression of the uprising was Jurgen Stroop. In his report he wrote down a characteristic sentence, “Es gibt keinen jüdischen Wohnbezirk in Warschau mehr!”. 

Jurgen Stroop was kept in the same cell with Kazimierz Moczarski from 2nd March to 11th November, 1949. He told him the story of his entire life. Moczarski’s report of his conversations with Stroop was released after years, in 1973, in a form of a reportage “Conversations with an executioner”.

Stroop’s statements from Moczarski’s book perfectly picture how the demolition of the Warsaw synagogue looked like. 

Under these circumstances I decided to complete Grossaktion on 16th May, 1943 at 8:15pm with a beautiful frame of the official closure of the Great Synagogue in Tłomackie. The preparations lasted 10 days. We had to empty its interior and drill hundreds of holes in its foundations and walls in order to place the explosives. The synagogue was a solidly built edifice. Then, in order to blow it up at once, we had to perform laborious sapper and electric works.

Stroop also recalls:

A fantastic view from the perspective of painting and theatre! We stood with my military staff quite far from the synagogue. A sapper officer responsible for the proper blowing up, handed me through Max Jesuiter, an electrical apparatus which caused, through electrical wires, a simultaneous detonation of explosives placed in the walls of the synagogue. Jesuiter ordered a general silence. In the glow of the burning buildings stood, tired and grimy, my brave officers and soldiers. I prolonged the moment. In the end I shouted “Heil Hitler!” and pressed the button. A fiery explosion lifted up to the clouds. A terrifying boom. A brilliance of colors. An unforgettable allegory of the triumph over Jewry. The Warsaw Ghetto ceased to exist. Because Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler wanted so.

Jewish Historical Institute