WWII artefacts found in hidden bunker at Warsaw Ghetto building site secretly ‘smuggled’ out of Poland

The 100-year-old artefacts found hidden inside a bunker at a building site in the Warsaw Ghetto have been secretly smuggled into Israel, according to reports in the Israeli press. Kalbar/TFN/Hamodia

Jewish artefacts found hidden inside a previously undiscovered bunker at the site of the Warsaw Ghetto have been secretly smuggled into Israel, according to reports in the Israeli press.

The 100-year-old tefillin were discovered by builders working on the construction of a new residential apartment block in the capital.

According to Israeli media, members of the Shem Olam Institute which has contacts scattered across Europe keeping them informed of such discoveries, contacted the workers and after a series of negotiations and promises to keep their identities and cooperation secret, the tefillin were handed over.Israel Hayom/Screenshot

The 10 small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah and worn during weekday morning prayers, were found hidden behind a stack of books and weapons.

According to Israeli media, members of the Shem Olam Institute which has contacts scattered across Europe keeping them informed of such discoveries, contacted the workers.

Tefillin are small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah worn during weekday morning prayers.CC BY-SA 3.0

After a series of negotiations and promises to keep the builders’ identities and cooperation secret, the tefillin were then handed over.

Shem Olam Director Rabbi Avraham Krieger said: “The task of transferring the tefillin was done secretly but under the noses of the authorities.

The 10 small black leather boxes were found hidden behind a stack of books and weapons in a secret bunker at the construction site in the Warsaw district of Wola (illustration pic).Kalbar/TFN

“A short time ago, the tefillin arrived in Israel and underwent cleaning and preservation at Shem Olam.”

He added: "The tefillin were hidden beside weapons and the equipment that served the rebels of the Warsaw Ghetto, testifying to the importance that they held in the Jews' eyes."

Karolina Gałecka, spokeswoman for Warsaw City Hall said it was “a crime” to not report valuable and historical items found at construction sites.Press materials

Polish historians have now accused the Institute of breaking the law.

Professor Barbara Engelking, head of the Center for Research on the Extermination of Jews at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences told Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper: “This is an absolute scandal. Selling such things dug up at construction sites is unacceptable.

“The city should be interested in this. I am sure that there, in the ghetto, you can still find many interesting things .

Professor Barbara Engelking, head of the Center for Research on the Extermination of Jews at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, said the situation was a “scandal”.Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

“The sad thing is that Warsaw cannot keep an eye on what is hidden in the buried cellars.

“You have to try to find and punish the person who sold these items illegally. Because no one gave these tefillin away for free.”

Karolina Gałecka, spokeswoman for Warsaw City Hall said: "When the investor discovers valuable items on the construction site, he should report it to the provincial inspector of monuments.

Most of the Ghetto was levelled during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.Public domain

“If he did not do it, a crime took place.”

She added that officials are now trying to find out at which construction site the tefillin were found, saying: "They will check whether the excavations have been reported to the provincial conservator of monuments.

“If not, the town hall will notify the prosecutor's office."