It rained cats and dogs just as we were about to look for Warsaw's Ghetto Wall. Thankfully the thunderstorm ended soon just as it rolled in quickly. We made a dash out from a Metro station that became our temporary shelter and into one of the trams that would bring us closer to our destination. Since Warsaw has super-wide avenues that require serious leg work (and there's an efficient public transport system anyway), we armed ourselves with unlimited passes (1-day, 3-day or 7-day passes are available).
In a city with increasingly more buildings being built, things can get confusing somewhat. That's the case with finding the Ghetto Wall. We got out from the bus next to the Central Station and unfolded our city map. It doesn't help that most streets in Warsaw also have these long unpronounceable names, all ending with vowels. Locals, especially the younger ones who speak English, are just happy to help errant legs. So we were told to walk along Jerozolimskie, turn right into Towarowa and our destination, the Ghetto Wall, should be right there in Sienna.
We got into Sienna after hopping into a tram. All around us were unremarkable Communist-era buildings. But where's the wall? We craned our necks here and there. On a sidewalk, we found one sign that confirms we were in the right place. However, the gate is closed and no one was around at the time to answer our query. We turned into another corner where a fenced-in courtyard offered us a view of this red-bricked wall. We couldn't ascertain if what we're seeing is what we actually think it is. Someone walks by and we asked. Yes indeed, that's the Ghetto Wall - or what remains of it - in the courtyard of some apartment buildings.
What we're looking at is a section of the original Ghetto Wall which you would never want to visit if this was Warsaw in 1940. In October of that year , the occupying Nazis herded all the Jews within the confines of this originally 11-mile brick wall that was topped with barbed wires. In the next few weeks, about 400,000 Jews were corralled. They were not allowed to leave, virtually prisoners of the ghetto. Living conditions within the next year and a half was appalling - with little food, rampant disease and scarce source of livelihood. So many died and even more so as mass deportations began in 1941, sending them to their eventual deaths in Treblinka - the dreaded extermination camp.
The suffering and death within the walls of the Warsaw ghetto is truly incomprehensible just as those that happened elsewhere during World War II. It left me drained and depressed while making me more aware of my own freedom. But then I look at 2010 and realize in a way the painful truth that divisions still exist among men - that walls do still divide us.