Jewish Krakow

Here we are in Krakow. And here we are, staying in the former Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, once a completely separate town.

How come there were so many Jews in Poland by the early 20th century? They formed, for instance, 20% of the population of Krakow by the beginning of WWII.

Blame the crusades. The Polish kings at the time declined to get involved. Jerusalem was so far away after all. So there were no crusaders from Poland in the routine persecution of Jews that took place in those so-called Holy Wars.  And Poland became a place of sanctuary.

Along came the Black Death. Citizens from all over Europe looked for someone to blame. Jews, obviously. Jews needed somewhere to flee. Poland, obviously. Poland somehow escaped the Black Death, so didn’t need to persecute Jews at that time.

Over the centuries, Jews did well in Poland. Well educated by their rabbis at a time when education was far from universal, they prospered. They tended to live together, in harmony with their Christian neighbours.

Then Hitler came to power.  As he occupied Poland, he began his all-too familiar persecution, then extermination of the Jews. But in Krakow, the factories were short-handed. and Jews were required as slave labour. 3000 Poles were forced to leave their homes in the Podgorze area, and 16,000 Jews moved in to the ghetto it became. 

This street forms one of the boundaries of the ghetto.

One of those factories was Otto Schindler’s. 1000 Jews who might otherwise have died lived because of his protection – he could have managed with 100 workers. This dark period is remembered in Plac Bohaterow Getta – Ghetto Heroes Square, where 70 chairs symbolise absence, departure. This Square was the place where Jews were executed, or sent to almost certain death in the local Concentration Camps. Another sobering day.

19 thoughts on “Jewish Krakow”

  1. Thank you for this. I would not be able to stomach Auschwitz. It is believed my grandparents were killed there along with several of my aunts with their husbands and children. My father was lucky to be in an Italian concentration camp, Ferramonti, which looked after their internees. I expect young people can deal with it better than our generation and they need the reminder more than us.

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    1. I would have found this all unbearable if I had family connections. As it was, I wanted to slap the young woman who gaily sat cross-legged on one of those memorial chairs, grinning as her boyfriend took her photo.

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  2. The chairs are very powerful – simple but full of meaning. I wouldn’t be able to go to Auschwitz, I know that. Not surprised you feel burnt out, it sounds a very emotional journey. Thanks for the updates. Keep them coming!

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