The Heart of the City That Once Was. Collection of the Jewish Historical Institute  

They say that you die twice – once when you stop breathing and the second when somebody mentions your name for the last time. But what happens when you try to erase the names and memory of an entire nation? For over 75 years, the Jewish Historical Institute has been working to preserve the memory of the people of whom only shadows remain – unsigned pieces of paper, an unidentified face in a photo, an armband with the Star of David, or a book with handwritten notes on the margins. 

The Institute stores tens of thousands of documents, manuscripts, old prints, books, artworks, and photos. Many are one-of-a-kind items, remnants of a Jewish life that is no more. Each object has its own unique story. Some are invaluable works of art, others mundane things of everyday use. The collection remains under the watchful care of experts at the JHI and is being catalogued, described, and processed in a way which allows us to discover as much of its history as possible. It is also being preserved and digitised, so that it remains in prime shape and is available to future generations. 

We want to showcase these objects – many of which are buried deep in our storage rooms – to a wider audience, which is why we are presenting their photos in the space of the city which before the war was home to the largest Jewish community in Europe. Our efforts have taken the shape of the outdoor exhibition The Heart of the City That Once Was. Collection of the Jewish Historical Institute. The artefacts left behind by the old Jewish community are becoming part of the modern history of the city by accompanying passers-by in their travels, peeking out at them from advertising media they rush past every day. 

The exhibition comprises fifteen objects from the JHI collection, with their high-quality digital copies presented on fifteen posters. An integral part of the initiative are texts discussing each item, available on the Institute’s website. We showcase pieces from our collection and at the same time demonstrate that every historical object is a carrier of memory and may be interpreted in a fresh way. 

We have invited a cast of collaborators – artists, writers, journalists, researchers, and experts. Each has selected an object from the exhibition and written a personal text inspired by it. The individual posters come together to form a route leading the audience around Śródmieście and Muranów, with every stop on the way accompanied by the record of a fleeting reflection stirred by these objects – witnesses of history. 

We have chosen this unusual presentation method wishing to boast a part of the JHI’s history – the fruit of our work on digitising, describing, and making available our collection as part of the “Jewish Historical Heritage” programme. The project has allowed us to take on new challenges, such as making available over 2,300 objects, including some of the testimonies of Holocaust Survivors, photos, artworks, or a unique collection of stamps, in our digital repositories – the Central Judaic Library ( and the Delet Portal ( 

The Jewish Historical Institute is the longest-standing Jewish institution in Poland. The building of the Institute located at Bankowy Square miraculously survived the Holocaust. It is here that the heart of the city that once was, the heart of former Jewish Warsaw, has been beating for 75 years, forging a bridge between then and now. 


The exhibition is open from March 1 to March 31, 2024.


Director of the JHI: Monika Krawczyk 

Curator: Krzysztof Czajka-Kalinowski 

Organisational curator: Anna Dobrowolska-Balcerzak 

Conceptual support: Małgorzata Sołtysik, Marta Kapełuś, Ada Małczyńska 

In cooperation with: Agnieszka Jeż, Agnieszka Kajczyk, Agnieszka Mastalerz, Agnieszka Witkowska-Krych, Anna Kowalczyk, Beata Chomątowska, Jowita Michalska, Justyna Majewska, Karolina Sulej, Ola Bilińska, Piotr Paziński, Sylwia Chutnik 

Visual identification and graphic design: Lidia Zajdzińska 

Editing: Magdalena Romanowska 

Translation: Natalia Kłopotek 

Communication and marketing: Aleksandra Galant, Anna Ekielska, Natasza Majewska 

Promotional support: Aleksandra Przeździecka-Kujałowicz

Digitisation: Grzegorz Kwolek, Szymon Tłuszcz, Tytus Rojek 

Conservation: Violetta Bachur

Acknowledgements: Franciszek Bojańczyk, Urszula Antczak, Dariusz Lipowski, Marzena Mikos, Olga Pastewka, Włodzimierz Konefał 

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