Archeologists unearth Jewish girl’s shoe at site of WWII ghetto bunker
A young girl’s shoe has been unearthed by archaeologists at the site of the bunker in the Warsaw Ghetto where Jewish resistance fighters made their last stand before committing mass suicide in 1943 in what has gone down in history as the ‘Warsaw Masada'.
It is the first time in 80 years that excavation work has allowed the bunker's secrets to be revealed.
According to the researchers, it could also be the grave of several hundred insurgents, including ghetto uprising leader Mordechai Anielewicz.
The site of the tenement house in what is now the city’s Muranów district was the headquarters of the Jewish Combat Organisation, which was instrumental in organising and launching the ghetto uprising.
The 10-year-old girl’s small shoe made of light leather and a heel made from cheaper material attached to it with nails, was found alongside kitchen tiles, floor tiles and fragments of dishes.
The excavations began at the start of June at a plot surrounded by the streets Miła, Dubois, Niska and Karmelicka in the Muranów district, which before World War II was called the Northern District and was inhabited mainly by Jews. In 1940-43, it was located within the boundaries of the ghetto.
During the ghetto uprising, the headquarters of the Jewish Combat Organisation, which had previously been quartered at Miła 29, took refuge in the bunker built underneath the building which had two addresses - Miła 18 and Muranowska 39.
The bunker, known now as the Anielewicz Bunker, after the Jewish Combat Organisation’s commander Mordechai Anielewicz, was a large bunker, well equipped with weapons and food, with water and electricity, built under a tenement destroyed in September 1939.
It belonged to people from the Jewish underworld led by Szmul Aszer.
At the end of the second week of the uprising, on 8 May 1943, the bunker, which held about 300 people, was surrounded by the Germans and collaborating Ukrainian troops.
After a call to surrender, some of those in hiding, mainly civilians, left the bunker and surrendered. The soldiers who remained inside tried to put up an uneven fight, but the Germans started to inject gas inside.
According to the account of Tosia Altman, one of the few people who managed to get out of the bunker, at the call of Arie Wilner the Jewish fighters committed collective suicide.
One of them, Lutek Rotblat, first shot his mother and then took his own life.
Approximately 120 insurgents committed suicide, including Mordechai Anielewicz with his girlfriend Mira Fuchrer.
About 15 people survived. Some of the survivors soon died of wounds or gas poisoning, others died later on the “Aryan”, non-Jewish parts of Warsaw.
The buried bunker became a mass grave at the same time, because after 1945 no exhumation works were carried out.
Due to similarities with events that took place from 73 to 74 CE in the ancient Jewish fortress Masada besieged by the Romans, the bunker on Miła Street is sometimes called the "Warsaw Masada".
After the war, a mound of rubble was raised over the mass grave, and a commemorative stone was placed there.
The inscription in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish reads: "In this place, on 8 May 1943, the commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Mordechai Anielewicz, together with the staff of the Jewish Combat Organization and several dozen fighters of the Jewish resistance in the fight against the German occupiers, died as soldiers".
Asked about the purpose of the excavations, lead archaeologist and historian from the Warsaw Ghetto Museum Jacek Konik said: “There is only Tosia Altman's account of what the bunker under the tenement looked like. It was very big, it had five or six entrances, but we don't know in which direction. We want to verify historical accounts."
This project is being carried out by the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, the American Christopher Newport University and the Aleksander Gieysztor Academy in Pułtusk.
The excavations are uncovering the cellar walls and vaults hidden in the ground. Since the beginning of the work, researchers have been finding objects of everyday use and household equipment.
The artefacts include children’s shoes, kitchen tiles, ceramic floor tiles, fragments of glass vessels, a jar of Nivea cream from the 1940s, vials, a tin lampshade from a cellar lamp, a weight, pliers, and coins.
The Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich has been informed about the works. In the case of finding human bones, the archaeologists have promised to stop work immediately.