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TRAVEL YOUR OWN HISTORY
Maksym Chornyi

WAR-DOCUMENTARY.info

TRAVEL YOUR OWN HISTORY Beyond UMSCHLAGPLATZ in Warsaw

Beyond UMSCHLAGPLATZ in Warsaw

by Maksym Chornyi
04 апреля 2020
30 minutes read

PLAC BRONI SQUARE

The pioneer settlers had mastered the attempts to assimilate the modern crossing of the Stawki and Dzika streets as far back as in the XVI century. It will take another two hundred years to pass prior to the date when the swamp-like area in the north part of Warsaw would witness the erection of the earliest residential structures. At the earliest in 1874, the new-made iteration of the city map of Warsaw was geographically accompanied by a new ‘STAWKI’ street, with ‘the ponds’ as word-for-word meaning in Polish. The pint-sized pieces of water would be featured within the site as late as until the 1890s. So far as the epilogue of the Napoleonic wars in Europe resulted in the actual loss of the independence of Poland in favor of the Russian Empire, the supervision over the so-called ‘Królestwo Polskie’ (Congress Poland) had been entrusted to Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich. Of all others, this very ruler, later the failed pretender to the regalias of Emperor and a man to be kicked out of powers at the height of the ‘November Uprising’ in Poland, approved the build-up of open ground within the borderlands of Stawki, Dzika and Pokorna streets in Warsaw as late as in 1824.

Warsaw map, 1831. The square in the middle is the ‘Plac Broni’

The newly-made ‘PLAC BRONI’ (The square of armament) was not merely the open ground for the military exercises of the Polish army, but also the largest square in Warsaw at the time with 420 meters of each side. Relatedly, the open ground had been initially endowed with pure military appropriation. The square-cut area was fenced with a wooden enclosure and made inaccessible for the locals. Following on from the results of the 1830-1831 ‘November Uprising’ (also known as the ‘Russian-Polish war), the Polish parliament (Seim) was abolished, as well as the Polish army. From a narrower perspective, the former military grounds to the north of the city center (Plac Broni) were delegated to the occupational forces with the preservation of the initial designation. To that moment of time, the area also included the army barracks, had been erected as far back as in 1829, a year prior to the uprising. It will take another two decades for the administration to maintain repair works within the ‘Plac Broni’. By the middle of the XIX century, the former military grounds were in use on a more and more seldom basis by designation and more often as an area for storage. 

Warsaw, 1879. The ‘Vistula Railroad’ already exists to the North

Within the years of the last decade of the XIX century, the ‘Plac Broni’ was destined to be subjected to a new meaningful makeover. The western part of the former open ground was designated for the erection of the storage facilities as well as the expansion of the railway line to the north, a transport derivation of the ‘Droga Żelazna Nadwiślańska’ (generally regarded in English as the ‘Vistula River Railroad’). The ‘Plac Broni’ also was destined to witness another transformation within its southern-west part. As early as in 1895 the crossroad of the Stawki and Dzika streets (next to the modern memorial of ‘UMSCHLAGPLATZ’) was built-in with a wooden home shelter for homeless, an erection, that will outlast the years until the Second World War. 

The new home shelter and the renovated storage and railway facilities were not the only means of the transformation of the area at the threshold of the XX century. On the basis of the decree, which had previously approved the elimination and moving the local market within the Walowa street nearby, the southern part of the former military grounds was assigned to give space for a new merchant area to come. As early as in 1901, a large wooden pavilion with two erections of the same assignation was built-up next to the home shelter. The relatively reasonable rental charges generated a demand for these new market facilities to the extent, that up to 80% of the merchant area was soon leased. Along with that, the nearby area along the Stawki street was also leased on a subsidy basis, thus expanding the merchant facilities. At the time, the Jewish population prevailed among the residents of the district. 

The shelter for the homeless on the corner od Dzika and Stawki streets

The interwar years, initially celebrated with the acquisition of the Independence by Poland (based on the dramatic results of the Great War), witnessed a new wave of the reconstruction for the area along Stawki street. As late as in 1921, ‘Dom Składowy Miejskich Zakładów Zaopatrywania Warszawy’ (Warsaw Municipal Supply Center) occupied some premises of the old market at Stawki 4/6. Virtually, it was the local administrative body, established with the sanction of the Warsaw City Council in order to coordinate and maintain modernization of the supply and merchant procedures. The new administrative formation agreed upon the reconstruction and expansion of an old railway affiliation, had been carved to the military facilities back in the 1890s. The renovation of the freight terminal, in actual terms the affiliate of the WARSAW GDAŃSKA station to the east, will take another decade to be performed within the major part of the former ‘Plac Broni’ site. During this time period, new railroad tracks, as well as five large warehouses, were built-up. 

1935 / 2020 COMPARISON:

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At the date of putting into service, the new freight depot happened to become the largest of such kind in Poland with the carrying capacity of 170 000 tonnes of goods transhipped annually. In a span of the pre-WW2-years, the freight terminal was increasingly used as ‘Plac Przeładunkowy’ or ‘transshipment site’ in English or later ‘Umschlagplatz’ in German, the sadly known euphemism for mass deportations from the Warsaw ghetto to come. Looking further forward, the less part of the former transport depot would be used by the Germans to maintain the mass deportations in 1942. The greater part of the freight terminal continued to receive and store the goods. In 1944 at the height of the ‘Warsaw Uprising’ the fighters of the ‘Home Army’ stormed into the station and took some supplies, still stored within the spacious warehouses. The railroad tracks were demolished within the after-war years and the warehouses of the former freight depot (the eastern part of the former ‘Plac Broni’ had been preserved until the 1970s, when the area was cleared to give space to a new residential district, present up today. Some remains of the former transport facilities (the eastern part, beyond the territory of the ‘transshipment area’) survived until the 2000-s prior to the final demolition. 

The entrance to the ‘transshipment area’, historically known as UMSCHLAGPLATZ during the mass deportations, 1942
The remaining storage facilities in the Eastern part of the former freight depot, the 1970s.
The former storage facilities of the freight terminal to the East of the ‘deportation area’. The 1970s

One more and never fulfilled the construction plan for the remaining area of the former ‘Plac Broni’ included the built-up of a new bus terminal with the first day of work scheduled for September 1, 1939. History had other plans and the bus depot, drafted on paper with the spacious waiting room, a lunchroom, multi-window ticket-office, and even a washroom, was never to be fulfilled. The project implicated a budget of no less than 150 000 PLN at that time. A new transport terminal was assigned to have a passenger platform of 120 meters long with the capacity to manage up to 12 buses at once, thus being the largest transport depot of such kind in Warsaw. The outbreak of the Second World War, the German air bombardments of the city and later the occupation, in fact, draw the line with the ambitious plans of the further transformation of the area of the former ‘Plac Broni’. The place for a never-built transport terminal was to be turned into the site of mass exodus during the Holocaust. 

Though the freight terminal to the north of the Stawki street would become a site of the forced exodus and the tragedy of the Warsaw ghetto, the maternal ‘Warsaw Gdanska’ station was left by Germans to maintain its operation with intended purposes of the transport terminal. Distanced 800 meters to the North-east from the ‘Umschlagplatz’ memorial, the station, historically regarded as the ‘Vistula station’, was opened as far as in 1877 as a transport point of a new ‘Droga Żelazna Nadwiślańska’ (Vistula River Road). It took almost two decades prior to the 1930s and since the station had been burned during the First World War to maintain repair works. In the years of the occupation, the Germans renamed the station into ‘Warsaw Danziger Bahnhof’ with the preserved functions of one of the intermediary stations of the railroad system. The pre-war terminal was later demolished and the year of 1958 witnessed the opening of a new transport station with the generally known ‘Warsaw Gdanska’ notion. 

1945 / 2020 COMPARISON

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STAWKI 4/6 (MODERN 10)

FORMER PUBLIC SCHOOLS № 112, 120, 122 AND OFFICES

By the early XX century, Stawki street in Warsaw was already notable for the multiformity of its housing development. Since the year of 1895, the crossroad with Dzika street had been occupied with the wooden shelter for homeless as well as new spacious merchant pavilions accompanied the area five years later. The district was not kept away from the construction of the educational institutions as well. As far back as in 1902 the purchased ground at Stawki 34/36 was developed (at the request of the Association of Mutual Assistance to Trade Workers of the Mosaic Confession) with a new Craft School, built for the comfort of 250 students simultaneously. As the history went to the 1920s, three one-story schools (№ 120, 122 and 175) were built on a plot of ground at Stawki 21/23/25 respectively. To that moment the part of the old market on the opposite side of the road had been already granted to ‘Dom Składowy Miejskich Zakładów Zaopatrywania Warszawy’ (Warsaw Municipal Supply Center), an administrative body initiated in 1921. 

As far back as the 1930s, at the time with the epilogue of the reconstruction of an old freight depot to the north of Stawki street, the local authorities issued the built-up a number of new erections, including a hard-wall building at Stawki 4/6. This new structure was assigned to perform the final steps in the makeover of the former merchant area. The building-up of a new monumental four-story erection was finally completed as early as in 1935. Aside from a new office for the former ‘Warsaw Municipal Supply Center’, some premises were assigned to store the municipal archive. These prescriptions were no more than a drop in an ocean as the better part of the building was prescribed to host three schools at once: № 112, 120 and 122. Consequently, schools № 120 and 122, had been previously operated on the opposite side of the Stawki street since the 1920s, were now granted with new accommodation. 

One of the infamous photos of the UMSCHLAGPLATZ. Stawki 4/6 building is on the left
Stawki 4/6 building is far left, 1942

The majority of the sadly remembered photos of the ‘Umschlagplatz’ deportation area during the occupation of the city and the mass expulsion of the residents of the Warsaw ghetto in summer 1942, depicted the open area just in front of the Stawki 4/6 building (generally far left). The area behind the building (in fact the inner courtyard of the neighboring school at Stawki 8) was used by the Germans as a detention area, the waiting point for the doomed people on their way to Treblinka extermination camp. Today, one can observe the wall of red brick apr. 70 meters long and 2 meters high. In factual contrast with the general assumptions and assertions of some guides, that the wall is no less than an authentically preserved relict of the former ‘transshipment area’ since 1942, the well-known aerial photo of the area, took in 1945, as well as the attestation of the recognized polish historians, lives poor authenticity to that version. In defiance with its look and the metal particles on the top of the wall, it was built after the war, likely out of the remains of one of the pre-war erections. As late as in 2014 the part of the wall was demolished to be later reconstructed. Since 1958 the building has been home for Zespół Szkół Licealnych I Ekonomicznych nr 1 Im. Mikołaja Kopernika (Complex No. 1 of the High School and Economics named after Nicolaus Copernicus). 

The wall behind the modern Stawki 10 building

 

STAWKI 21 (MODERN 5/7) 

FORMER PUBLIC SCHOOLS № 153 AND 175

The second building, that occupied the area as far back as in the mid-1930s and sadly remembered within the period of the mass deportations, is the municipal building, initially assigned with Stawki 21 address. Back in the 1920s, three one-story schools were built on a spot of land opposite the home shelter and the old market. The grand plan for modernization of the area included new premises for these three educational institutions. As early as 1935 two of them: 120 and 122 were moved to a new building at Stawki 4/6 on the opposite side of the street. The second-in-a-row building was built-on prior to the year 1937 and occupied the greater part of the territory nearby. The remaining school №175 was later moved here as well as another Warsaw school №153. The remaining erections of the former old schools would be completely demolished prior to World War Two. 

Three one-story public schools on the opposite side of Stawki street, the 1920s
The doomed victims from the Warsaw ghetto at the UMSCHLAGPLATZ. Stawki 21 is on the background beyond the wall

The building and two schools inside were destined to operate (for intended purposes) for a short period of time prior to the outbreak of the war. As the Germans occupied the city and later turned the area into the  ‘Umschlagplatz’ (transshipment site), the former educational building was also occupied by the SS soldiers as well as the members of the local ‘police of order’, generally formed of non-polish citizens. One of the premises had also served as an office for the senior German officer, who would supervise the mass deportations nearby. The building at Stawki 21 (modern 5/7) was put into repair works years after the end of the war. As early as in 1973 the ‘Department of Psychology at the University of Warsaw’ moved into the premises of the renovated building. The modernization included the expansion of the wing to Andersa street, which can be easily traced with the comparison of the photos. The repair works in the 1970s also revealed the scrabbled inscriptions on the walls in the basement, the former detention premise for a number of inmates. The modern front-side of the building with a new address includes a memorial plaque with a piece of brief information on the dramatic history of the building within the Holocaust. 

The former educational building after the war
Another panorama at the former ‘Umschlagplatz’. Stawki 21 is to the right

 

STAWKI 8 (MODERN 10)

PUBLIC SCHOOL, PLANNED TO BE OPEN ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

Towards the end of the 1930s, two new-built buildings (Stawki 4/6 and Stawki 21) at Stawki street in Warsaw already accommodated five public schools (112, 120, 122, 153, 175), three of which (120, 122, 175) had been previously located on the crossroad with Dzika street nearby. As late as in 1939 the remaining storage facilities of the ‘Warsaw Municipal Supply Center’ were assigned for demolition to leave space for the erection of another educational building, another public school, scheduled to be open on September 1, 1939. The administrative and teaching staff was already complemented, as well as the list of pupils filled, the educational schedule written. The outbreak of the armed aggression of the Third Reich cast a doomed shadow over the plans for a new school at Stawki street and the further occupation and the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto has metamorphosed the area and the intended purpose of the building endlessly. Still, as at the date of 1939, the new erection, facing Stawki street, was neighboring with Stawki 4/6 with three schools and administrative premises and with an old shelter for homeless on the corner of Dzika street (it is unknown in what year it had been closed). 

Panorama of the former ‘Umschlagplatz’ in 1945. The former Stawki 8 building could be clearly observed
Stawki 8 is first from the bottom-left

Summarizing the above, by the outbreak of the Second World War, the image of Stawki street had already been transformed, not least due to a new building at Stawki 8, still with the smell of a whitewash. With the occupation to come, the German presence and later with bleeding over the area into a site for mass deportation of the residents of the Warsaw ghetto, the designation of the never-opened school had been metamorphosed either. The Germans disposed a minuscule hospital within one of the premises of the buildings. Along with that, the building at Stawki 8 has been recorded into history due to more dramatic occasion, apart from the very location next to the deportation area of ‘Umschlagplatz’. Those desolated residents of the Warsaw ghetto, who were herded into ‘detention area’ and were not put into cattle trucks the same day for one reason or another, were now engaged to spend day and night within the so-called ‘containment area’. When nightfall used to come, these people were taken from Stawki street (the sad panorama from photos) into the inner courtyard of the planned school. In fact, this very courtyard next to the wing of Stawki 8 and behind Stawki 4/6 is topographically regarded to both buildings. 

The infamous ‘containment area’ within the courtyard during the mass deportations. Summer 1942

Apart from the disposal of people within the courtyard behind two educational buildings, Germans found themselves in a more controlled position to supervise the inmates inside the building. In a wider dramatic sense, the doomed residents of the ghetto, who had been prisoners for almost three years in inhuman conditions, were now taken to spend day and night under the guards before being taken to the Treblinka death camp for extermination. The access to the toilets inside the buildings was forbidden, there were no active water pipe and the herded people generally had no or poor amount of provision (evidently depicted in ‘Pianist’ movie by Roman Polanski). Depending on the density of people crowded within cramped rooms, some of them were to stand all night without answering the call of nature. Consequently, the conditions were not too different from the cattle wagons, a means to take the victims of the ‘final solution’ to death camps. Years after the war, the inscriptions were found on the walls of the building at Stawki 8, once made by people on their way to Treblinka. 

The panorama over the Stawki 8 building and the ‘Umschlagplatz’ memorial plates, 1964

Even two years after the mass deportations of summer 1942, Germans used to detent a number of captives within the buildings of the former ‘transshipment area’ (UMSCHLAGPLATZ). On August 1, 1944, a unit of the Polish members of the Home Army, lead by Stanisław Janusz Sosabowski, attacked the Germans within the territory of the former ‘Umschlagplatz’. At the same time they managed to take the supplies within the former freight depot, the rebels succeeded in storming Stawki 8 buildings with the release of 50 inmates, turned out to be Jews from Hungary and Greece. It took decades for this building to be repaired after the war. The photo of 1964 depicted new windows, yet the general outwall was still very similar to the state, it was liberated back in 1945. The building accommodates «Muranów» Youth Culture Center (Młodzieżowy Dom Kultury «Muranów» im. C.K. Norwida), which has moved here as early as in 2009 after the years of reconstruction works. 

 

DZIKA 4 / STAWKI 12

FORMER SHELTER FOR HOMELESS

In the late XIX century and despite the transformation of the former ‘Plac Broni’ area and the railway offshoot, the territory to the north of Stawki street was mainly a wasteland and bare place. As recently as two decades before the end of the century, dozens of small ponds could be still recognized within the area to the west. As late as in 1895 a new wooden building was erected on the crossroad of Stawki and Dzika street with the intended purpose to become ‘DOM NOCLEGOWY DLA BEZDOMNYCH’, a shelter for homeless. The property was run by ‘Albertine Brothers’, a Catholic congregation, that had been initiated in the Polish city of Krakow back in 1888. The institution was also granted partial financing on behalf of the local authorities and the city budget of Warsaw. At the time Dzika street had much more space within the city map of Warsaw and a home shelter was entitled with Dzika 64 address. 

With the outset of the ‘Great War’ (First World War), the mission of the shelter was shifted to become a refuge for escapees from the Russian Empire. The inter-war years of now independent Poland and painfully poor standards of life once again affected the wooden one-story building at Dzika street. The building was slightly renovated and reopened in 1924 with a new address of Dzika 4 with the initial mission as a shelter for the homeless. To that moment in history, the institution had already gained a vicious reputation with the dialect designation as ‘the circus’. There were rumors that such title came into general use due to a local police inspector, who was depressed with the poor conditions of the shelter and with its population and proclaimed, that the place was more like a circus or a ‘wild beast show’. In a factual sense, his exaggeration was close to the truth.  

In the span of the inter-war years, the shelter at Dzika 4, as well as the other institutions of such kind in Warsaw, were generally overpopulated with those, who strived to find a place to live with a free plate of soup. This social prelude indeed resulted in poor sanitary conditions and even epidemics among the residents. On the other hand, the population included criminal elements, marginal figures, trouble-makers, and the periodic alcoholic debauches led to police bust-ups. In local use, the phrase ‘circus man’ was now to be associated with characterized marginal elements, drunks, and criminals, in contrast with any efforts of the administration to maintain a sort of ‘selection’ of the residents. 

It is still historically unidentified, the exact moment in history when the old shelter was closed and the wooden erection demolished. The building could be easily observed within the aerial photos taken in 1935, yet within the occupation and the deportations, another construction was at the place. Taking into factual consideration the staged ‘refinement’ of the area in the 1930s: the liquidation of al old market, the build-up of three new municipal buildings for schools and the upcoming plans of transformation the remaining open area into a large bus depot, it’s likely that the shelter had been out of usage prior to the Second World War. While drawing comparisons with the modern outlook of the former ‘Umschlagplatz’ area, the wooden home shelter was once located on the very crossroad of Stawki and Dzika streets, apr. 50 meters to the left of the memorial. 

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