An unexploded German mortar was uncovered in the major Jewish cemetery in Warsaw during renovation works.
Established in 1806, the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery has borne witness to Jewish life and death in the Polish capital ever since and it is the final resting place for over 200,000 people. Major figures including rabbis, intellectuals and entrepreneurs are buried there, often under elaborate tombstones and commemorative monuments. The area was also included in the boundaries of the ghetto established by the Nazis after the occupation of Poland and many of their victims were also buried in it.
The device was exposed during the cleaning of the First Quarter of the Okopowa Cemetery, which is the oldest of the site, presenting at least two levels of burial.
“Everything happened extremely quickly. The police and the bomb squad arrived rapidly. I was called in to help make sure that no unnecessary damage occurred, although since an event like this represents a matter of pikuach nefesh nobody was going to pose restrictions to the work of the sappers,” a rabbi said, referring to the Jewish concept of a life or death matter which trumps any other consideration.
While the cemetery was incorporated in the area of the ghetto, researchers believe that the mortar is likely to have been shot not during the Ghetto Uprising in 1943, but during the city uprising in 1944, when the area stood exactly on the frontline.
The cemetery is still used by Warsaw’s Jews to this day and every year is visited by tens of thousands of people.