All of the electric-car tour companies offer a variety of city itineraries but we had already walked much of the old-town, so we chose to venture further out and take a tour of the Kazimierz District (Jewish Historic District) and the WWII Krakow ghetto.
We were struck by the occasional facade that remained obviously unrestored or patched-up ever since WWII. You couldn't help but be reminded of the difficulties and challenges Poland has faced from the end of WWII through the present.
According to general historic record, in 1495, King Jan I Olbracht moved the Krakow Jewish community to the nearby royal city of Kazimierz, which gave rise to a bustling Jewish quarter and a major European center of the Diaspora for the next three centuries. With time it turned into virtually separate and self-governed 34-acre Jewish Town, considered a model for every East European shtetl, within the limits of the gentile city of Kazimierz.
As refugees from all over Europe came to find the safe haven in the Jewish quarter, its population reached 4,500 by 1630. The Jewish leaders petitioned to build walls enclosing their community which was granted and the “Oppidum” Jewish Town, became the main spiritual and cultural center of Polish Jewry, hosting many of Poland’s finest Jewish scholars, artists and craftsmen.
This golden age came to an end in 1782 under Austrian Emperor Joseph II. In 1791, Kazimierz lost its status as a separate city and became a district of Kraków and in 1822, the walls were torn down, removing any physical reminder of the old borders between Jewish and Christian Kazimierz.
Several historic civic and religious sites from this period still exist in Kazimierz.
His tomb is located in the adjacent Remuh Cemetery. The synagogue and the cemetery, were both devastated under the Nazi rule. They were restored in stages from 1956-1968. The synagogue is the venue for religious services for orthodox Jews in Krakow. The interior boasts its original Aron Hakodesh, a Renaissance stone cabinet for the Torah.
The Ghetto was surrounded by the newly built walls that kept it separated from the rest of the city. All windows and doors that opened onto the "Aryan" side were ordered to be bricked up. Only four guarded entrances allowed traffic to pass in or out.
Fifteen thousand Jews were crammed into an area previously inhabited by 3,000 people who used to live in a district consisting of 30 streets, 320 residential buildings, and 3,167 rooms.
You can still find surviving portions of the ghetto wall to this day.
In recognition of his heroic deeds in helping countless Jews in the Ghetto during the Holocaust, he was bestowed the title of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem on February 10, 1983.
Jews were assembled on Zgody Square first and then escorted to the railway station in Prokocim. The first transport consisted of 7,000 people, the second, of additional 4,000 Jews deported to Belzec death camp in 1942. In 1943, the final 'liquidation' of the ghetto was carried out. Eight thousand Jews deemed able to work were transported to the Plaszow labor camp. Those deemed unfit for work (about 2,000 people) were killed in the streets of the ghetto. Any remaining people inside the ghetto were sent to Auschwitz.
Needless to say, Jim and I were sad and quiet at the enormity of the history we were seeing on this part of the tour. A Stunningly poignant monument stands today to commemorate this terrible suffering.
Oskar Schindler (28 April 1908 – 9 October 1974) was an ethnic German, industrialist and member of the Nazi Party. He is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and munitions factories. It is said that by the end of the war, Schindler had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers.
Remaining in contact with many of the Jews he had met during the war, Schindler survived on donations sent by Schindlerjuden from all over the world. He died on 9 October 1974 and is buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, the only member of the Nazi Party to be honored in this way. For his work during the war, in 1963 Schindler was named Righteous Among the Nations, an award bestowed by the State of Israel on non-Jews who took an active role to rescue Jews during the Holocaust
Oskar Schindler, his factory, and the fate of its Jewish workforce feature prominently in the museum. Roughly a sixth of the museum’s permanent exhibition is dedicated to them. The rest shows prewar Krakow, the German invasion in 1939, Krakow as the capital of Poland under the Nazi occupation, the sorrows of everyday living in the occupied city, family life, the wartime history of Krakow Jews, the resistance movement, the underground Polish state, and lastly the Soviet capture of the city.
It is also now host to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow in the former workshops and a branch of the Historical museum of the City of Krakow.
Sadly, we did not have time to go into the museum on this particular tour (though you can book a tour that includes entry to the museum) because we had planned to visit the museum later. As with all trips, time can mess up the best of plans so we were not able to get back to the museum. It is now on our “have to get back to here” list!
Since 1993, there has been an effort to restore important historic sites in Kazimierz and a booming growth in Jewish-themed restaurants, bars, bookstores and souvenir shops. Recently, Kazimierz along with Krakow, is having a small growth in Jewish population including some Jews returning to Kazimierz from Israel and America.
Kazimierz is a part of the city of Krakow that is vibrant, historic and so interesting and is definitely a part of the old city that you should not miss!