‘Last chance’ plea for memorial to Gdansk ghetto

From 1940 onwards, site was home to Polish port city remaining 600 Jews - now it is being rapidly redeveloped


Local activists in the Polish port city of Gdansk are campaigning for a memorial to be erected on the site of the city’s former Jewish ghetto.

The ghetto was sited in Owsiana Street and is currently a derelict site on Granary Island in the centre of Poland’s sixth-largest city.

On the Baltic coast, Gdansk is best known as the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union movement, whose civic resistance was instrumental in the collapse of communism in Poland in the 1980s.

The site was once home to an old granary, the Red Mouse Granary. From 1940 onwards, it served as the ghetto for the city’s remaining 600 Jews and the last stop in Gdansk before deportation to sites of death throughout occupied Poland. The building was destroyed by bombing in 1945.

Since 1990, Granary Island has been the site of much urban development, with new hotels, restaurants and apartment buildings turning it into one of the city’s most desirable addresses.

The area around the Red Mouse Granary site, which is owned by the municipality, is currently earmarked for construction. Polish poet and musician Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, a Gdansk resident and the grandson of a concentration camp survivor, told the JC that while he and other activists and concerned citizens such as the journalist Dorota Karas have been pushing the city to memorialise the ghetto, their entreaties have thus far fallen on deaf ears.

Mr Kwiatkowski, who has been trying to raise awareness of the city’s local Holocaust history for years, believed the site is “too small” to be built upon in a serious way and is therefore ideal for a Holocaust memorial.

Historically a German city, after 1919 Gdansk — then Danzig — was internationalised as a Free City under the protection of the League of Nations. In 1924, a German-speaking community of more than 4,600 Jews lived there.

The Nazis won the last free elections to the city’s parliament in 1933, after which the party set out dismantling liberal democracy and undermining minority rights in Gdansk.

In October 1937, Jews were the victim of a pogrom that caused damage to Jewish-owned homes and shops. A year later during the events of Kristallnacht in November 1938, many of Gdansk’s synagogues were either destroyed or desecrated. That same month, the Nuremberg Laws were put into effect.

From 1937 on, there was an exodus of Jews from Gdansk — including 140 Jewish children who made it to Britain via the Kindertransport. By the outbreak of war in September 1939, only 1,600 Jews remained. By the end of February 1941, that number had fallen further to 600.

While Gdansk is home to Poland’s controversial Museum of the Second World War and other monuments commemorating that conflict, the city has yet formally to remember the Holocaust beyond a Kindertransport memorial that stands outside the central train station.

Local activists such as Mr Kwiatkowski worry that, as construction eats away at Granary Island, the last chance to build a lasting, meaningful Holocaust memorial on a site of historical importance will be lost for ever.

“This is one of the last empty places [on the island] not full of luxury apartments,” Mr Kwiatkowski said, describing the ghetto as a “forgotten” part of Gdansk’s history.

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