Snapshot Saturday: a window on Krakow

We’re just back from our holiday – that epic journey through Poland and to Berlin. It feels like the beginnings of a voyage of discovery into a so far almost unknown part of my family history. And I may have a post or two to share still. You have been warned.

But here’s just a bit of fun.  Walking down a street in Krakow the other day, I spotted the streetscape behind us reflected in the window of this car.  Here it is:

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is ‘windows’

Krakow 1940

It’s a toss-up whether to showcase our simple but delicious lunch – soup, crammed with every veg. known to the allotment patch, eaten in the company of a pile of Polish students and workers, or whether to hark back once more to the war.

All these vegetables were lined up in the café waiting to be transformed into soups and stews.

For positively the last time, the war wins.

My mother always acknowledged that she was lucky and lost nobody she cared about in WWII. She was a young teacher in York and evening fire-watching duties were rather fun. And all those handsome Polish airmen …. reader, she married one.

Compare Krakow for the first four years and five months of the war. German troops marched through the city and occupied it. If your house was requisitioned by the army, so were its furniture and contents. You just had to leave. Familiar streets were renamed in German. Polish news sources of all kinds were banned. Secondary and University education was banned, and teachers who taught in secret risked the camps. Foods were in such short supply that Poles and Jews alike subsisted on under 300 calories a day for stretches of the war. Minor infringements, such as boarding a tram intended for Germans, or breaking the curfew resulted in a stretch in a labour camp. And if all that was tough, the Russians who succeeded the Nazis as occupiers were even worse.

I know all this from our visit to Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, now a museum of Krakow under Nazi Occupation.

Polish street names ripped down, to be replaced by different, German names.

I decided to bite the bullet, and tomorrow, I go to Auschwitz. Malcolm’s chosen not to go. I don’t blame him.

A mish-mash of a day….

…. At the market at Stary Kleparz. Just look at all those mushrooms.

At Collegium Maius, the oldest part of the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. It’s one of the oldest universities in the world, and my father studied there.

Up the Town Hall Tower in the Market Square …

… from which we could see St. Mary’s Basilica, whose wonderful polychromatic interior seduced me as much as the magnificent altarpiece by Veit Stoss.

All of these deserve posts of their own.  But not just now. I spend my time getting lost. I can’t even walk the 300 metres or so to our favourite café without getting in a muddle. Every single time.

Wawel Castle

Poland’s had a tough history. There’s never been a century when it hasn’t been invaded. I found a map that showed the western countries that hadn’t had a go at taking over Poland were few and far between. What with Swedes and Prussians and Austrians and Germans and Russians invading, ruling, dividing and subjugating, it’s a wonder that Poland has a national identity, language, or culture at all.  But it has. And the Polish people are proud of it.

Take Wawel Castle in Krakow. Originally built in the 11th century, then rebuilt, it burned down in 1499. And what a palace Sigismund the Old commissioned in its place! His wife was from Italy, a Sforza, and Italian workmen wrought a Palazzo fit for her to enjoy.

Since then, it was repeatedly sacked by armies from Sweden, from Prussia, and then from Austria. These last razed churches and houses on the site, constructing instead barracks and a military hospital while ruining the mediaeval fortifications.

Poland was once again re-established after WWI. Since then, the castle and the entire enormous site has gone through a period of painstaking restoration to reveal its earlier Polish ancestry. If this means rebuilding, or scaling away later additions by conquerors, so be it.

Wawel Hill is an enormous site shared by state and church alike. Here are some pictures to give some idea of this magnificent area of Krakow. The images show the Renaissance courtyard, the Royal Cathedral, the Sandomierska Tower and a view of the site from within the Castle walls.

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.