Warsaw was once home to the largest ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe, imprisoning as many as 460,000 Jewish people, more than three-fourths of whom were murdered here or deported to killing camps, such as Treblinka and Majdanek. It was also the site of the largest Jewish rebellion during World War II, the brave but tragically unsuccessful Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Established in November 1940, the living conditions within the ghetto were horrid and only got worse over time. On average, nine individuals shared one small room. Residents were subjected to the Nazi hunger plan, forced labor, and were under constant threat of mass starvation, infectious diseases, and regular executions. Even as many died, the overall number of incarcerated people either remained the same or kept increasing, as more Jewish people were brought in from across the country.
The ghetto was cut off from the outside world by a wall, which inhabitants were forced to build. The wall was three meters (9.8 feet) tall and topped with barbed wire. Escapees were shot on sight. Inside, the only means of subsistence was smuggling, and a large number of the people participated in the illegal trade.
Even in such conditions, there were inequalities among the confined people. Those who were wealthy, about 1-2 percent of the inhabitants, often enjoyed the privileges of outside nightlife. Meanwhile, artists and intellectuals struggled to continue their creative endeavors. To help people escape from the harsh reality of life in the ghetto, Jewish people established an underground library, a symphony orchestra, and the secret archive of Oneg Shabbat.
On April 19, 1943, after realizing the Nazis were going to deport and kill all surviving residents, the ghetto rose up against Nazi forces. The incident, known as the largest single uprising against the Nazis during World War II, lasted for nearly a month. It ended on May 16, 1943, when Nazi forces deported and murdered tens of thousands of people. Ghetto inhabitants knew that there was no chance of winning, but kept resisting to show the Germans that they were not going down without a fight.
The ghetto was almost entirely destroyed during the 1943 uprising and was soon replaced by a concentration camp. Today, little remains of the ghetto. The best-preserved fragments of the wall can be found at 55 Sienna Street, 62 Złota Street, and 11 Waliców Street, which predate the war. There are several memorial plaques throughout the city as well as 22 Warsaw Ghetto boundary markers installed in 2008 and 2010.
In 2011, a monument by Tomasz Tusch-Lec was installed on Chłodna Street. Titled “A Footbridge of Memory,” it pays homage to the wooden footbridge that connected the “Great Ghetto” and the “Small Ghetto.” The original footbridge was built in 1942, replacing an earlier gate. The bridge went over the predominantly “Aryan” street of ul. Chłodna.
The art installation consists of a pair of bluish-gray metal poles, connected by optical fibers that project the illusory shape of the footbridge after sunset. The poles are also equipped with small windows where visitors can look into the past days of the Warsaw ghetto.