This Jewish Cemetery Will Send Shivers Down your Spine

Warsaw Jewish cemetery in Okopowa

The Warsaw Jewish cemetery in Okopowa Street is one of the largest in the world, covering over 30 hectares and counting more than 200,000 graves. It’s one of the last Jewish cemeteries in Poland still in use today and, since 1973, it is also recognized as a historical monument.

For centuries, Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in the world. Because of this, in 1806, the Jewish community appealed to the authorities in order to get a new space to bury their loved ones.

Thousands of Jewish civilians, insurgents, and soldiers who died in the Warsaw Ghetto and during the Warsaw Uprising are also buried here in mass graves.

The Warsaw Jewish cemetery is beyond expectations

The first time I visited the Warsaw Jewish cemetery I didn’t know what to expect.

I was raised by a Christian family in a Christian country. The image that comes to my mind when I think of a cemetery is one of lined up, well maintained, marble tombstones. The graveyard perimeter is usually made of cypresses, in an ever more tidy fashion. The sounds are those related to gardening or cleaning.

Have you ever visited a Jewish cemetery?

They are quite different.

And the Warsaw Jewish cemetery is totally the opposite.

The Warsaw Jewish cemetery in Okopowa is a heterogeneous mix of all kinds of gravestones. You’ll see tall traditional vertical slabs, bulky plain stones as well as elaborated tombstones.

Some stones are crooked and old, some are straight and new and some are just beautiful pieces of art, with carefully carved inscriptions and ornaments.

Most of them are overgrown by moss, camouflaged amidst a dense vegetation. There is almost no living descendant to take care of the cemetery, as most of Varsovian Jews died during WWII or emigrated during communist times.

Trees, which after the war covered most of the grounds, are so many, that the dry treetops entangle wherever you look, crackling and snapping at the slightest blow of wind.

Should you visit the Warsaw Jewish cemetery?

I wouldn’t say The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery in Okopowa is a must-see in Warsaw.

If you are visiting just for few days, there are many things that you might want to visit before this.

BUT, if you have some extra time and you are looking for something different, this is definitely a priceless treasure worth experiencing.

Although rough and imperfect (and perhaps far from the mainstream notion of beauty), the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery is a site of Jewish gravestone art of incalculable value – as most of the Jewish heritage was almost totally destroyed during World War II.

It was a complex place to take in, and it left me with a desire to know more about Jewish culture.

If you want to dig deeper into Jewish culture in Poland, check out the POLIN museum (my article coming soon too).

Have you been here? Do you want to visit? Let me know in the comments!

Further info:

Opening hours:

Monday 10AM–5PM
Tuesday 10AM–5PM
Wednesday 10AM–5PM
Thursday 10AM–5PM
Friday 9AM–1PM
Saturday Closed
Sunday 9AM–4PM

Phone: 22 838 26 22

Cost: FREE

Address: Okopowa 49/51, 01-043 Warszawa

Find out more about it on the official Jewish heritage and history website.

2 thoughts on “This Jewish Cemetery Will Send Shivers Down your Spine”

  1. Avatar

    Some people I know whose grandparents lived and died in Warsaw before the Nazis came into Poland would love to check up possible graves of their ancestors. is there a database at the site perhaps where one can check the names of those buried there? Thanks

  2. Avatar

    You say you will be writing about Polin Museum. I have been there. It goes into much detail. It left out a significant piece of history about the Jewry as it was called at the time. On March 24, 1933 the ”Jews Declared War on Germany” It was an economic war but the UK Express & the New York Times wrote it as I just did. When a Jewish man said that in 2015 I had my doubts but I researched it and he was correct.

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