Unique Place of Jewish Heritage in Warsaw

In Hebrew, a cemetery is called a “house of eternity”. The Jewish cementary in Warsaw Okopowa Street was established in 1806 on the initiative of the Jewish community. It is one of the largest Jewish cementaries in Europe and still in use. There are 85,000 artistic gravestones in different shapes and forms, with inscriptions in Hebrew, Polish, Russian and German and a variety of ornaments and symbols, surrounded by old trees. All together, it creates a peaceful and reflective atmosphere on 33,5 hectare. Every season gives another impression of the graveyard.

The variations of tombs and gravestones show how diverse the Jewish community was: Spiritual, political and cultural leaders are buried here, including Marek Edelman who was the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Ludwik Zamenhof who created the artificial language “Esperanto”. On the cemetary is a mass grave of nameless victims who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The cemetary was a part of the Ghetto. Before the war, the cemetary was named “cemetery on Gęsia” and included a funeral house and a synagogue. The oldest tombstone is from 1809.

According to the cemetary’s website, conservation works take place every year where you can join as a volunteer. Here you can see the impressions of my visit:

The symbol of a giving hand indicates that the buried person has been a philantrophist.

The inventor’s tombstone of Lazaro Ludoviko Zamenhof who invented the universal language Esperanto. I took this picture when I first visited the cemetary in autumn 2021.

Humanitarian aid initiative for Ukrainian refugees

A van fully packed with wheat, pasta, sugar, cookies and cornflakes. 4 passengers including me. 1,200 kilometers ahead, the distance between Meppen in Germany (my hometown) and Ostrołęka in Poland. Between these two small cities exists a city partnership since 1994. At the beginning of the war and the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Ostrołęka, Ostrołęka’s city mayor started to publish calls on Facebook for food and clothing. This was seen by Anna Solbach, a board member of Meppen’s partnership committee. Thus, the partnership committee organised a humanitarian aid transport to Ostrołęka for around 700 Ukrainian refugees who fled to Ostrołęka since the beginning of the war. The city of Meppen donated 2,000€. I joined this journey to document the transport and to support with translation.

We started very early in the morning on Sunday, 22 May at 6 am and arrived at 6:20 pm. Luckily, there were no traffic jams on the road. After the exhausting journey of 12 hours there was nothing better than eating a delicious dinner with Polish soup, bread, and cheese. 

On the next day at 10 am, we unloaded the van at the City Center for Family Assistance (MOPR) which is comparable to the Social Welfare Office (Sozialamt) in Germany. It is the place where supplies for Ukrainian refugees are collected. Also the primary school no. 5 is in the building.

Ostrołęka’s citizens collected clothing for Ukrainian refugees and bought it to the gym hall of the primary school in Ostrołęka – including garments for children, toys, diapers, shoes, and prams.

Afterwards, we were invited to the city hall where we spoke with the city mayor Łukasz Kulik (41 years old) about the situation of Ukrainian refugees. The mayor told us that some Ukrainian people experienced severe trauma and face now difficulties to start a normal life. Ostrołęka has another partner city in Ukraine: Pryluky. No one came from this city because there was no possibility to leave.

Photographies from Ukraine in 2015 at the Culture center in Ostrołęka: the director of the institution Zenon Kowalczyk showed us the exhibition covering three topics – Maidan 2014, war and the civil population, and pictures from the Donbass region. War lefts unforgettable scars.

As you can see on the picture below, there is even a sign of the city partnership between Ostrołęka and Meppen. Partnerships beyond borders are essential for peace, especially in times of crises.

I love OKA = Ostrołęka

Author: Julia Solbach

Photographies: Anna Solbach/Julia Solbach