Breakfast in the Ghetto
Posted by Exile on March 25, 2008
I have just returned from a weekend in tourist luxury. The Warsaw Hilton can be very proud of itself. The staff were friendly, extremely attentive without being obtrusive, aware, and always happy to help. I didn’t see one face without a smile the entire weekend. The food is tremendous, and breakfast in bed was a rare treat, supplied by an impeccable room service.
Warsaw has to be seen. There is very little there more than 60 years old. It is being redeveloped properly now. The big names either are there, or are on their way. Hotels abound. The old city, as it is called, is a complete rebuild of Warsaw as she was, the Paris of the East, including a few ancient town houses that were painstakingly rebuilt of houses taken from Szczeczin which was asked to donate several million of its original bricks which were largely untouched by the war. Warsaw was over 90% demolished. It is worth a visit, reminding one of Prague.
What was once the Warsaw Ghetto is being developed at neckbreaking speed. The Hilton Hotel lies within the old Ghetto area on Gyrzbowska street. The only remaining part of the outer ghetto wall is to be found a few streets south of the hotel on ul. Sienna. The streets have changed slightly since the destruction that took place, but the street names have been re-used and, inevitably, slightly misplaced. Sienna (the original) laid within the ghetto. I found this map of the ghetto area and have tried my best to place what I found. Clicking on it will give a larger view.
Looking for evidence of the carnage that took place there was not as difficult as I expected. A mere two hundred meters from the Hilton I found ul. Walicow. A five storey wall meets the eye. Set back from the street, one can see this is a relic of the Ghetto. Looking behind the wall, the other side bears a story of its own. The remains of a tenement building there and the wall on the other side of the street bear the marks of gunfire. There is no mistake to be made here. I could put my fingers into bullet holes. The building is boarded up, derelict to the N’th degree but still stands as a monument to the destruction of Warsaw.
Across the Gyrzbowska street, and slightly to the west, is another, smaller ruin. The ruin is fenced off and I found a small marker denoting this was some sort of historical object but I saw children playing here in the piles of broken bricks and dust and climbing the walls. Obviously, they were unaware of what the old building had once been. Someone had sprayed graffitti on one of the inner walls. It said “Still mourning” and was written in English. I hope something will be done to preserve these structures.
In the central area of Warsaw, now a park and open square, I saw what appeared to be archaeological digging going on. Actually, someone was taking the time to dig down into old Warsaw. I have no idea what this will become. I could clearly see redbrick foundations and cellar space but the whole project was fenced off and covered by timber built protective structures.
Warsaw is well aware of its history, and I think that now they are free to develop the city again, there will be more of this history to see. The concrete is disappearing, new buildings are being built with modern materials and the whole place has a positively upbeat attitude to it. At night the city lights up and some of the skyscraper type buildings are a spectacle to behold. They are decorated with living light shows. The Marriott hotel has a huge marquee banner running round the top of the building and the whole building has flashing pattern lighting up and down its entire facade. It is not alone. From our 14th floor window, we could see several of these light shows. Amazed by the building activity, I remarked on it to a cab driver while he was taking us round the city. “We didn’t build much while the Russians were here”, he said, “it didn’t seem worthwhile.”
If you visit, take the time to see the various memorials and monuments. Go and see the old town and the Barbican castle and defenses. And as you stand on the Barbican walls, look over the river Wista to the East. Beyond that, is where the Red Army simply sat down, within earshot, and waited while the Polish freedom fighters were finally being crushed by the Wehrmacht along with over 90% of the city they fought so hard for.