Historical Facts about Warsaw

Warsaw is an amazing city with great history which spans over 1400 years, growing from being a cluster of villages to becoming the capital of Poland. Major developmental events marked this transition period and everyone especially visitors of Warsaw deserves to have an idea of some of these historical facts.


The Collegium Nobilium was an high classed boarding school established for children of magnates and wealthy gentries, it was founded in 1740 in Warsaw by Stanisław Konarski and run by Piarist monks. The school operated until 1832 and was one of the predecessors of Warsaw University. It was at first called Collegium Novum, which was later changed in 1741. It operated in a building on Warsaw’s Dluga Street. Later, it was moved to the district of Zoliborz.

The target of the Collegium Nobilium was to educate future elites of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and to prepare them for reforms of the backward country. It had eight grades, but education lasted for eight years, as in grades II, IV, and V, the curriculum lasted two years. The school had a modern syllabus; it concentrated on natural sciences, mathematics, philosophy and modern languages, and with less pressure on the Latin and Greek languages. Stanislaw Konarski selected well-educated teachers, introducing courses in history, law, economics and sciences. The campus of the Collegium Nobilium was almost completely destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising. It was rebuilt after the war, together with its classicistic facade.


Prior to the eventual destruction of Warsaw by the Nazi army, some architects had made a plan to obliterate the city and its populace so as to build a model provincial German city one-tenth that size. This plan gave birth to the largest air raid in history up to that time on Warsaw in which many civilians were killed. The Warsaw uprising began a few years later seeking to liberate the city from German occupation.

The uprising which was led by the home army lasted for 63 days before the eventual defeat of the polish resistance which led to the complete destruction of Warsaw. By the end of the war, about 90% of Warsaw’s buildings had been demolished and most of its population murdered. However, Warsaw has been nicknamed the phoenix city because of its resilience and ability to overcome adversity. After the world war II, the communist regime undertook many housing projects in the process of rebuilding the city and the historic streets were reconstructed while the Old town was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1980.


Although there had been in existence some private zoos in Warsaw prior to 1929, the construction of the Warsaw zoo commenced in 1928 and it was officially opened in 1929 with Wenanty Burdziński, former director and founder of the zoological garden in Kiev being the director. The zoo purchased some animals from M. Pągowski and some donated by the Pedagogical Museum, which had a small zoo on its premises. During the World War II, many animals in the zoo were shot and killed and the zoo was eventually closed down when most of the valuable animals were taken away by the Germans and the others shot. One interesting story about the zoo was how a polish couple, Jan and Antonina Żabiński fearlessly hid 300 Jews and Polish fighters from Nazis in Warsaw Zoo.

Between the period of 1940 and 1944 Jan and Antonina Zabinski hid around 300 Jews and underground fighters in the zoo and in their own home under the noses of the Nazis and all of them survived except two. Some stayed for days until they could be found forged papers to flee Poland, others for years. In 2007, an American writer Diane Ackerman published her novel with the title- The Zookeeper’s Wife, drawing from Antonina Żabińska’s diary and narrating the story of the couple’s activities during the World War II. The book was eventually made into a movie in 2015 and released on March 31, 2017, starring American actress Jessica Chastain portraying Antonina and Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh portraying the director of the zoo Jan.

The zoo reopened in 1948 and today, it houses over 12,000 animals from more than 500 species. There are animals native to Poland, such as otters, brown bears and storks, but there are also a number of exotic species, such as African elephants, Rothschild giraffes, Indian rhinoceros, gibbons, various species of birds, reptiles and tropical fish. Most animals can be viewed from runways, but they are kept inside the buildings in winter. Birds can be found wandering freely around the zoo, living around its ponds and aviaries.


On October 16 1940, Hans Frank the most senior Nazi in Poland after the invasion ordered the establishment of the Warsaw ghetto which was to occupy all the Jews in Warsaw and its environs under a specific area within the city boundaries. It was reported that the ghetto housed over 400,000 people who were forced to live within an area of 3.4 km2 (1.3 sq mi), with each rooms bearing an average of 7.2 persons living on small food rations. This area represented less than 3% of the entire city and the inhabitants of this ghetto lived in extreme difficulty.

Adam Czerniaków headed the Jewish council that was then created within the Warsaw ghetto. He chose a policy of collaboration with the Nazis in the hope of saving the lives of the inhabitants of the ghetto and he confided his harrowing experience in nine diaries. He believed that this policy was better than the policy of dissent which would lead to overt repression within the ghetto. Orders were given regularly for the transfer of ghetto citizens to be transferred to the Nazi camps, when orders came from the Germans In July 1942 to increase the contingent of people to be deported, Czerniakow committed suicide.

Pic: Adam Czerniaków

As more persons were brought into the ghetto, the typhus epidemics, the difficulty in getting drugs for persons with the capacity to pay for them and starvation kept the inhabitants at about the same 400,000. On January 18, a small group of armed Jews attacked German soldiers who were in the ghetto overseeing the deportations of the remaining Jews. Their success was such that the deportations stopped as the soldiers temporarily withdrew from the ghetto. This act of rebellion spurred the Germans to seek to regain control over the ghetto. This led to the deployment of a large number of soldiers into the ghetto and within four days, they had gained substantial control over the ghetto killing thousands of Jews. A number of Jews made efforts to resist the attacks, the achieved little success until May 16th when the Nazis destroyed the Great Synagogue of Warsaw. It is thought that over 55,000 people were killed during the uprising and those that were not killed were sent to Treblinka and killed. By the end of May 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto had ceased to exist.



Related posts

What is Fat Thursday?

Warsaw Local

Five famous works of arts to visit in Warsaw

Warsaw Local

The Warsaw Royal Castle Reconstruction

Warsaw Local