When you visit Krakow, one of polish most charming destinations, you will surely learn about city’s rich history and history of the ethnicities that laid every cobbled stone of its streets. Wandering through narrow lanes and spacious markets, you will, sooner or later come across the remnants of the community of Krakow Jews. Would it be an intriguing, pre-war shop facade or a small synagogue – Jewish prayer house – squeezed between modern houses, Jewish history in Krakow can be seen everywhere. While looking for any historical monuments of Jewish culture, forget about main tourist trails – head to places that are just a small walk from the Main Market Square but introduce you to the rich and fascinating world of Jewish world – Kazimierz Jewish Quater and remnants of what used to be infamous Jewish Ghetto. If you go there, you will get the unique opportinity of discovering the long forgotten world of Poland Jews, that got recently rediscovered.
Krakow Jewish Quater is officialy the integral part of Krakow’s Old Town district. But as you enter Szeroka street, which is the main route of this small quarter, you will be surprised how different it is from any place in the Old City. Kazimierz used to be a living centre of the Jewish culture for as long as 500 years. Local community had here almost everything, that was necessary to cultivate their culture and tradition. Temples, cemeteries, markets and countless small shops – life of over 60 000 memebers of jewish community was here more vibrant than you could imagine. However, war- and post-war history did to the Jews what it did – with only couple thousand survivors left after Nazi genocide Kazimerz was never the same again. In the grim communist era Kazimierz was left abandoned and forgotten and soon became one of the most neglected areas in Krakow. It was only after Steven Spielberg shot here most important scenes of his Oscar-winning movie Schindler’s List when the place was rediscovered. After movie’s success in ’93, Kazimierz became a place of interest to say at least. Suddenly, hundreds of cafes, boutique hotels and excellent restaurant emerged and, of course, tourists appeared. Today, it is a vibrant, bohemian place, where pre-war Jewish culture can be seen like nowhere else in the world. And, once a year, you can join here amazing event – Jewish Culture Festival, which combines traditional and modern Jewish music and art.
Leaving behind your back the Kazimierz Jewish Quater you should head now to the area that used to be the infamous Jewish Ghetto. Established in 1941 in Podgorze district, during war times it was a home for about 16 000 Poland Jews – mainly from Krakow area. The ghetto was destroyed together with thousands of Jewish lives in 1943, but you can still find here remnants of the past. On what was before 20 hectares of overpopulated houses and barracks not many historical buildings remain – but what does, it more than worth seeing.
Wandering along Lwowska street you can see fragments of what used to be ghetto walls. Tomb-shaped arches crowning the wall stretch at 12 meters long and bear words: Here they lived, suffered and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps. Another ghetto wall fragment, even longer, can be seen at Limanowska street. It brings out somehow creepy feeling, when it crosses the neighboring primary school.
One of the places definitely worth seeing in the old ghetto area is the Pharmacy under The Eagel located at Plac Bohaterow Getta. In the times of war the pharmacy belonged to Tadeusz Pankiewicz, who although being Polish, stayed in the ghetto together with his family. The pharmacy soon became a cultural and social centre of the ghetto – and the Pankiewicz family saved hundreds of lives. Today the pharmacy building is a branch of Krakow Historical Museum. What should you expect here? We’d say – a small travel in time. The pharmacy interior is kept the way it was during the war and the chests and cupboards hold hundreds of interesting war testimonials from Polish and Jewish people.
Your walking tour on this day should be finished with a short visit to two extremely museums commemorating both past and present. Oskar Schilndler’s Factory, where a german industrialist saved thousands of lives during war times, is a place almost everyone knows – thanks to Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie Schindler’s List. You can see here hundreds of testimonials, multimedia and interactive exhibitions and experience life of the Jewish community during World War II. If you want to go back to present times, head to some of most popular museums in Krakow – Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAK). This huge avant-garde building hosts an amazing collection of polish modern art and houses regularly some of the most controversial art exhibitions in the country.
Schindler Factory Museum by Mark Murphy (www.travelpulse.com)
After such intensive sightseeing and experiencing Jewish and pre-war culture and traditions you are welcomed to join the all-night party at Kazimierz. When the night comes, Klezmer music seduces you from every corner and fizzy drinks (mixed for you with kosher vodka!) take you back to the joyful times of old Kazimierz.