The Great Synagogue which was situated where today the Blue Tower stands on Bankowy Square, was the most beautiful and most grandiose synagogue in Poland. It was opened in 1878 and served the community of progressive Jews. It could sit 2,000 people, was home to the outstanding choir, world famous cantors were singing there. Their performances were attended by those religious as well as laymen, Jews and Poles (f.e. Ignacy Paderewski, prime minister Felicjan Sławoj-Składkowski, Emil Młynarski, etc.)
In 1936 a new building was erect in the closest proximity to the Great Synagogue with the intention to become home to the Main Judaic Library. Its style matched the style of the Great Synagogue. It was positioned sidewise towards the square, closing the synagogue’s yard. It was home to the collection of approx. 30,000 volumes.
Beginning from 1940 both buildings were within the ghetto borders. In the Library offices of Jewish Self-Help were located, as well as were held some concerts (including symphonic concerts) and other cultural events. In disguise of Self-Help operations the underground organization “Oneg Shabbat” was working, documenting the Holocaust of Polish Jews. It is its members who we owe the most comprehensive source on the Warsaw ghetto: Ringelblum Archive.
On the 16th of May 1943, in an act of symbolic end of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, SS-general Jurgen Stroop planned spectacular blowing-up of the grand temple. He described this barbaric act in details and with pride to Kazimierz Moczarski, which the latter included in his book “Conversations with an Executioner”.
The fire that broke out as a consequence of the explosion burnt also the edifice of the Main Judaic Library. (It was also then when the lettering on its façade was destroyed). Until this very day the floor in its main hall bears the traces of fire of 1943.
However, contrary to intentions of German torturers, as early as in 146 burnt building was renovated and became home to Jewish Historical Institute. Jews who survived the Holocaust returned here to collect testimonies of murdered culture from all over Poland: books, art, documents. It is in JHI where miraculously found in September 1946 Ringelblum Archive is kept. (In 1999 UNESCO included it in “Memory of the World International Register”). Today, number of the volumes kept in JHI nearly equals the number of volumes in pre-war Main Judaic Library. The collection is probably even more precious, though originating from orphaned, annihilated Jewish communities from all over Poland.
On the 73rd anniversary of the tragic events of 1943 Jewish Historical Institute recreated the lettering (or its shadow?) on the façade of its residence, bringing back patch of the pre-war Tłomackie, bringing back from oblivion the detail that was obvious and natural for every Varsovian, passed by without marvel as a piece of landscape of the European capital of Jewish culture.
During the remembrance ceremony on the 16th May, 2016, the Director of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institue, professor Paweł Śpiewak said:
- There are no Jews in Warsaw anymore, but there is still Jewish Historical Institute. This place remembers.