Hidden away behind away behind an inconspicuous brick wall by a busy Warsaw main road, Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery provides a poignant insight into the history of Jewish Warsaw. Founded in 1806, the cemetery contains an estimated 250,000 individual graves plus mass graves from the Second World War. Although reopened after the war, the cemetery had become overgrown and neglected, and efforts to renovate parts of the cemetery started in the 1990s. Today most of the cemetery is dense woodland, with crypts and headstones amongst the trees and undergrowth. A small section today serves Warsaw’s existing Jewish population.
During the war the cemetery was closed and used for mass execution and for mass burial of victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Ghetto Uprising and Warsaw Uprising. The majority of Jewish birth, death and marriage records did not survive war, so the headstones provide an invaluable source of information for genealogists researching their families from the Warsaw area. Work to document the information from the headstones is ongoing, with around 60,000 being recorded so far. The graves, tombs and headstones range from simple Hebrew inscriptions to elaborate sculpted mausoleums.
The cemetery contains the graves of many prominent Warsaw Jews, including LedwigZamerhof, inventor of Esperanto. There is a monument to Janusz Korczak, the director of an Orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto who repeatedly refused chances of freedom to stay with the children in his care. In August 1942 German Soldiers came to collect 192 orphans, accompanied by Korczak, and transported them to Treblinka Concentration Camp. He stayed with the children to the end.
A sign near the entrance gives a list of notable interments, as well as a map of the various areas of the cemetery.
Monday to Thursday 10am – dusk
Friday 10am – 1pm
Sunday 9am – 4pm
10 PLN entry
Tram Stop – Cmentarz Żydowski (Trams 1,22,26,27)
Entrance through the metal gates opposite the tram stop.
Have you been to the Jewish Cemetery? How was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.