In The late 14Th Century, Jews came to Warsaw and settled in the Old Town between Wqski Dunaj and Piekarska streets. In the year 1527 to 1795 Jews were not allowed t olive in the city. It was not until the mid -18th century that they began to settle in the suburbs in large numbers. In 1780 they founded a cementery in Praga. The Warsaw community established its own cementery in 1806 outside the city ramparts, at what was then Gesia St. And is now 49/51 Okopowa St.from its founding until 1939 about 150.000 people were buried here. The Okpowa St.cementery covers an área of 33, 4 hectares and is one of the last Jewis cementeries in Poland which is being used.
This “house of eternity” as the cemetery is often referred to in Hebrew, is a monument of gravestone art, of Jewish art, and jewish presence in Warsaw. Its value as a record of Polish Jews is incalculable, because the material heritage of the Jewish commumity was almost totally destroyed during World War II. Among the gravestones, one can find traditional vertical slabs(matzevot) decorated with a wealth of ornaments and symbolic reliefs and covered by Hebrew inscriptions with beautifully carved letters (sections 1, 2, 8, 9 of the cemetery). Visitors can also see splendid tombs, which differ in desing from the traditional style )sectons 20,26,33 and the main lane ). The mausoleum of Ber Sonnenberg (section 1) with two bas reliefs is a masterpiece. Among the sculptors who made the tombs are : Abraham Ostrzega, Feliks Rubinlicht, Henryk Stielman, Mieczyslaw Lubelski, Mark Antokolski and Boleslaw Syrewicz.
The styles of the tombstones and the contents of the epitaphs reflect the diversity of Warsaw¨s Jewish community. Among those buried here are : rabbis and tzaddikim (Hasidic leaders); leaders of secular movements like the assimilation movement, Zionism and socialism; promotors of Hebrew; Yiddish writers, journalists and actors; people prominent in Polish life: industrialists, physicians, scientits, artists, publishers, philantropists and patrons of culture. Thousands of victims who lived in the Ghetto established in Warsaw during World war II are buried here in mass graves.
On the occasion of the burial of a famous person, the funeral ceremonias were imposing with huge crowds in attendance. Such for example was the funeral of the Yiddish writer I.L: Peretz.
Until World War II the cemetery, which included a funeral house and a symagogue, was taken care of by the burial society (Chevra Kadisha). Now the cemetery is ownned by Jewish Community of Warsaw. In 1973 it was officially recognized as a historical monument: it is under the protection of the Warsaw conservator´s office. Since 1070 the appearance of the cemetery has improved thanks to the efforts of the Community. Conservation has also been done by the Citizens Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries and Cultural Monuments in Poland, formed in 1981. The Committee collects infomation about the cemetery´s history and location of graves to replace, if only in part the original archives which were destroyed during the war.