A prayer shawl, a rabbi's correspondence and a ticket to a mikveh. The history of items found in old houses on the "Otwock line" will be presented in Warsaw soon.

For Maciej Woźniak, collecting has been a passion that he inherited from his father. He says he has collected things since he was a child. Ten years ago, he got interested in the Świdermajers, or wooden buildings erected in Otwock and its vicinity. There were hundreds of them in the town before the war, but today they are gradually disappearing, giving way to new villas. The ruined houses hide various treasures. They can be found not only in the living quarters and in the attics.

"To protect themselves from the cold, people stuffed various things inside the walls," Woźniak says. "Sometimes, instead of tree needles, they used old newspapers and other prints to insulate walls."

The explorer looks into derelict buildings. He also cooperates with demolition companies. His search has produced a rich collection of everyday objects and prints. They include many items related to Jews. Nearly 14,000 of them lived in Otwock before the war.

Maciej Woźniak's collections include election pamphlets, pension bills, prescriptions, tickets to mikvaot, Rabbi Szaul Taub's correspondence, a kashrut certificate, an invitation to the wedding of "Ms Nacia Wejman with Mr Heniek Bergman" and a ticket to a cinema run by Anna Perechodnik, the wife of Calel, who wrote memoirs from the times of the Holocaust. A lot of valuable historical items have been found in a small building of a former Jewish print shop at 40 Warszawska St that was slated for demolition.

"The most emotional experience for me was when I discovered objects belonging to an anonymous Jew under the floor of a certain villa," Woźniak said. "Clearly the Poles who moved into the house after the ghetto was liquidated put the items that remained after the former owner under the floor."

A hat whose style indicated its pre-war origin was lying among crumpled newspapers and rail tickets. There was also a prayer shawl, but it was so dirty and damaged that the finder at first thought it was an old foot cloth. It was the characteristic stripes that helped solve the mystery.

Maciej Woźniak's collections can be seen at http://www.archiwumotwockie.pl and recently also during public presentations organised by the Foundation for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. The first meeting was organised in November 2016 and the next ones will be held at 12 noon on 28 January 2017 at the Centre for Historical Narrative "Murowanka" at 77 Płowiecka St in Warsaw and at 3 pm on 19 February 2017 at the Warsaw site of the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland, 12/16 Grzybowski Sq.

"We hope that our meetings will make people more sensitive to material traces of the past and that they will give guidance to people renovating houses and buying properties," said the Foundation's Tomasz Brzostek. "The items that can be found in them are not gold coins but objects of great historical value; a testimony to the culture that is now gone."

Krzysztof Bielawski