Kazimierz – Krakow’s Jewish Quarter

Kazimierez – a historical district on the southern side of Krakow has been home to the Jewish community of Krakow since the end of the 13th Century.  It is full of history, interesting and horrible both. Part of it became Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto during WWII – most of the ghetto inhabitants were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz Concentration camp. (which you can go visit, I didn’t on this trip, though I do intend to in the future.)

It’s near impossible to walk through the quarter and not imagine what life was like then. Now full of hipsters and artsy cafes and bars, it’s nice to see some life and joy come back to these streets, which were once so solemn.

Plac Nowy is a dodecahedron building in the centre of a square in the quarter.

I began my day by heading to Plac Nowy. It was an easy 20 minute walk from the town centre, though I could have used transport I think. I read there was a small flea market there that is a locals kind of thing so I was very interested in seeing that. I came upon this really sweet lady selling her mother’s handmade felt and sequin ornaments. They were gorgeous and I bought three, though I’d wish I had bought more! She was so kind and her little set up was really festive with fresh pine boughs lain on the table and the ornaments scattered on top. She was kind enough to let me take her photo! These were probably my favourite purchase of the trip.

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Other vendors had loads of antiques and old items harkening back to both the soviet and nazi occupations. It’s always odd to me to see mugs and watches and buttons with the swastika or hammer and sickle on them. I did find an iron skeleton key to add to my keychain – I was happy with that 2 Zlotky purchase!

From there I started towards the Oskar Schindler Factory Museum, but made a few stops on the way. I walked across a really cool bridge over the Vistula River that had some iron sculptures suspended across it. They swung and moved with the wind which was really interesting. I heard that Poland had some good craft brewers so I stopped at a little pub and grabbed a pint of some delicious IPA.

As I got deeper into the Quarter, it began to turn into the Jewish Ghetto, one of 4 metropolitan areas that had Nazi sanctioned Jewish Ghettos. Only a handful of the people who lived there survived the death camps. Really sobering to walk through it. Along the way there was a building that still had mortar or bullet holes in it’s walls.

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A little further up is a memorial to the Jewish people who lost their lives in the main square.

It is the Ghetto Heroes Square with its 33 memorial chairs of iron and bronze. These chairs symbolize the tragedy of the Polish Jews. These inhabitants of Krakow were imprisoned in the Krakow Ghetto during the Second World War and the German occupation of Poland. And then afterwards losing their lives to the Germans on the premises of the ghetto and in several German death camps.

The square was erected around 1838 as the second market square for Podgorze, which was a separate town. After 1880 it bore the name of Maly Rynek (Little Market). In 1917 it saw another name change to Plac Zgody (Concord Square). This was because of and in memory of the incorporation of Podgorze to the city of Krakow in 1915. So the present name of the square dates from 1948. It commemorate the Polish Jews who were to lose their lives in the Krakow Ghetto between 1941 and 1943.

As can be seen the Ghetto Heroes Square is in the center of the old Krakow Ghetto. The main gate to the ghetto once stood where the present entrance to the square is, coming up from the Wisla river. In March 1941 the Germans locked up all the Krakow Jews inside the recently-built ghetto. Over 20,000 people were living within the ghetto walls, where previously only 3,000 people had lived.

The one and only non-Jewish inhabitant of the Krakow Ghetto was Tadeusz Pankiewicz, who had a pharmacy within the ghetto walls. During the existence of the ghetto he and his personnel provided all kinds of help and aid for the Jews imprisoned there. Incidentally the Eagle Pharmacy still exists. And it’s currently one of 14 branches of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow.

-absolutetours.com   

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I finally got to the Schindler museum and we had a really great guide. The museum is really more about the history of polish jews than it is about Schindler. I learned so much and am so glad I went. Just a note, though millions of Polish Jews died, millions of Poles died as well and that’s often forgotten by those of us who don’t live there, or frankly just don’t know.

I made my way back the way I came and stopped for ZAPIEKANKA. See this post for more info: KrakowBe sure to go to Endzior on one of the sides of the building in Plac Nowy. Every stall in that building sells these so make sure you go to the right one. They are not all created equal!

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