In 1945, the Warsaw ghetto was a sea of ruins. POLIN Museum, symbol and tribute to the memory of Polish Jews, stands at the exact location of the prewar Crown Artillery Barracks which housed the offices of the Judenrat during the Warsaw ghetto period. Behind each of the historical mementos in POLIN Museum’s collection are biographies of Polish Jews, who for centuries were part of Poland’s history.

All that remains of them are objects rescued from the Holocaust, inherited or orphaned, often anonymous. Their stories are waiting to be discovered.

In front of the burned down Crown Artillery Barracks, 19 April 1946
Opening of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in April 2013 Photo: POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Spoon found during excavation works in the former Warsaw ghetto area

A token issued by the Poznań Jewish community was also found among the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto. It may have belonged to Jews resettled from Poznań, many of whom found themselves in Warsaw.

Token found during excavation works in the former Warsaw ghetto area

A floor tile found during excavation works near Bonifraterska and Muranowska streets. It may have come from the synagogue that once stood at 18/20 Muranowska Street, which housed a shelter for Jews resettled to the Warsaw ghetto. The building was demolished in 1943.

Floor tile found during excavation works in the former Warsaw ghetto area
In the Kazimierz district of Kraków, 1930s, photo: Tadeusz Przypkowski

“Dear Engineer, after a long search I think I have managed to locate your workplace. I would like to thank you and your family for saving us,” wrote Stanisław (Solomon) Kaczergiński from Tel Aviv in 1953 to Tarasiewicz, an engineer, who had hidden him along with his sister Miriam and her son Aron during the war. Started in 1953, the correspondence between the two families continued regularly until the 1970s.

Letter from Stanisław Kaczergiński, hidden by the Tarasiewicz family during the Holocaust

Photograph sent by the Kaczergińskis to the Tarasiewicz family with the dedication „To our rescuers – in recognition.” Top, from the left: Aron, son of Miriam Wasserman née Kaczergińska, Miriam Wasserman; Bottom, from the left: Solomon Kaczergiński, Abraham Wasserman

Photograph of the Kaczergiński family

“We are certain we won’t be alive tomorrow. I am also begging you to take away Lalusia [?], it must be done as quickly as possible, since any moment might be too late.” This clandestine note was sent by Bronisława Perelmuter-Rapnicka to her Polish sister-in-law in the fall of 1942. She asks her to take care of her 7-month-old daughter, born in prison in Zamość. The child was saved, but the mother was killed by the Germans in one of the many executions that took place at the prison in 1942-1943.

Notes smuggled out of prison, gift of Jolanta Polberg, rescued from a Zamość prison as a baby
Excerpt from an interview with Jolanta Polberg, rescued from a Zamość prison

This doll in gypsy dress wound up with Maria Seńczuk during the war. It had been purchased from a man dealing in things that probably came from the Warsaw ghetto. In the mid-1970s Maria gave the doll to her sister, Helena. Thirty years later, Helena gave it to her granddaughter, who donated it to POLIN Museum.

A doll which probably came from the Warsaw ghetto

This spice box, a container for besamim (aromatic spices), used during havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat, was inherited by Kurt Weber from his parents. His mother most likely received it in Central Asia, where the Webers had been forcefully resettled during the Second World War. 

Spice box inherited by Kurt Weber

An evening purse which Regina Horowitz received in 1925 from her aunt and uncle while in Vienna, just before leaving for a concert by violin virtuoso Váša Příhoda. Left in the care of a Polish family, the purse survived the war. It was inherited by Regina’s daughter, Helena Schweitzer. 

Purse inherited by Helena Schweitzer
Concert ticket inherited along with the purse by Helena Schweitzer

Banner with the inscription “We condemn Israeli aggression,” referring to the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War of 1967. Poland’s condemnation of Israel was the beginning of the anti-Semitic campaign launched in March 1968. As a result, around 13,000 Jews were forced to leave Poland.

Banner used during the anti-Semitic campaign of March 1968

The banner was carried during the 1968 May Day parade in Warsaw, as captured in a photograph by Roman Broniarek. In 2006, Małgorzata Ritterschild found it in the basement of 12 Nowolipki Street.

May Day parade in Warsaw, 1968 Karta Center Photo: Roman Broniarek 
Excerpt from an interview with Małgorzata Ritterschild

Suitcase which the Merc family took with them when leaving Poland on 8 September 1969. They decided to leave on account of the anti-Semitic campaign started in March 1968

Suitcase which belonged to a family of Jewish emigrants

This photograph was sent to POLIN Museum in a letter from an anonymous donor. “Dear Sirs, sometime in 1968-1969 my friend had to leave Poland. I helped him pack […] Naturally people couldn't take much with them, so when we were parting he left me a photograph (attached) which was of tremendous value to him. I am […] sending it to your Museum. Perhaps you can do something with it. I think it’s what my friend (already deceased) would have wanted.”

Photograph of a street in Sosnowiec, sent to POLIN Museum by an anonymous donor

In recent years Polish antique dealers and auction portals have seen a real flood of items that bear witness to the richness of Jewish life in prewar Poland. Objects without owners, orphaned as a result of the Holocaust, are finding a place in the POLIN Museum collection.

All we know of the family of Wolf Kuszniewicz (pictured) is written on the back of this photograph, purchased from an antiques collector.

Photograph of the family of Wolf Kuszniewicz from Maniewicze in Volhynia

Students of the Poniewież yeshiva in a Purim play, 1926. The yeshiva was founded in 1909 at the initiative of rabbi Rabinowicz. After 1919 it became the largest religious school for boys in Lithuania. One of the boys is dressed up as Esther, a key figures in the Purim story.

Students of the Poniewież yeshiva, 1926

Can from the Branka Lwów Sugar Chocolate and Cocoa Factory Co Ltd. which belonged to Maurycy Brandsteatter, a Jewish entrepreneur. Founded in 1882, the factory was one of the largest sugar confectionary plants in interwar Poland

A Branka Lwów can of sweets

To discover more objects from the POLIN Museum collection visit the Central Judaica Database website:

If you own any objects related to the history of Polish Jews you can share their history with us by donating them to POLIN Museum.

Credits: Story

Kurator — Justyna Koszarska-Szulc, adiunkt muzealny
Kurator — Anna Mizera, Centralna Baza Judaików
Tłumaczenie na język czeski — Zuzanna Pydzikova
Tłumaczenie na język francuski — Aleksandra Kling
Tłumaczenie na język hiszpański — Aleksandra Smuga
Tłumaczenie na język rosyjski — Sebastian Tkacz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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