Warsaw Ghetto tram fully restored to become central feature new ghetto museum
Recognised as being the only one of its kind in the world, a pre-war tram that once rolled through the Warsaw Ghetto has been fully restored and will act as one of the central elements of the future Warsaw Ghetto Museum.
Thought to date back to 1907, the tram was unveiled to the press last week shortly before commemorations took place to mark the 80th anniversary of the Ghetto Uprising.
Built in Germany, the vehicle was originally constructed at a time when Warsaw was reliant on horse-drawn trams. The introduction of this tram to the city would come after Warsaw electrified its public transport.
However, it was the wartime that would ultimately elevate the significance of this Type A model of tram.
Although Warsaw’s Jewish population found themselves sealed off in the Ghetto in November, 1940, the vastness of the area demanded that it be serviced by its own tramlines.
Mounted with a Star of David above the driver’s cabin in place of the route line, the sight of these wagons trundling down the crowded streets became one of the abiding memories of the Ghetto.
Running from Pl. Muranowskiego, its scheduled stops covered Muranowska, Dzika, Dzielna, Karmelicka, Leszno, Żelazna and Chłodna.
The brutality of the Ghetto Uprising’s suppression, paired with its methodical subsequent destruction meant, though, that few of these vehicles survived – in fact, only one was known to have survived to this day.
Underlining the importance of this tram, Warsaw’s Vice President, Aldona Machnowska-Góra, said: “The Germans exterminated not only the Jewish nation, but also its culture and material heritage. As a result of these activities, few historical artifacts have survived in the capital as witnesses of that tragic history.”
Undisputed in its historical value, historians believe that the last time this tram would have functioned would have been in July of 1942 – most likely, according to City Hall sources, it would have been used to transport Jews to the Umschlagplatz as they awaited deportation to the gas chambers of Treblinka.
After the war, historians have theorised that it was used to store materials needed for tram repairs. In later years, it was left simply abandoned amid tangled undergrowth.
Now receiving a second life, restoration work was first undertaken last year. Involving 100 people, and costing PLN 250,000, the project was carried out following design documentation dating over a century old.
Moreover, engineers working on the chassis used the very same techniques that would have been available to workers in that period.
Carried out in Warsaw’s T3 repair plant, rust was painstakingly removed whilst missing elements were replaced using exactly the same kind of materials as would have previously been used.
Further, the tram was then painted red and adorned with a Warsaw mermaid on its exterior.
Financed by Warsaw City Hall and the local tram authority, the tram is set to stand in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum once it opens.
Speaking at the tram’s unveiling, councillor Agnieszka Wyrwał said: “I try to imagine the people that this tram would have once passed in the Ghetto and I just can’t. Every day, this tram witnessed enormous suffering and immense tragedy.”
These thoughts were echoed by Konrad Niklewicz from the tram authority. “I cannot hide my emotion when I see this tram. The most important parts – its wheel and chassis – travelled around the Warsaw Ghetto. This vehicle is unique on a global scale.”