The Jewish Quarter
Base for our stay in Krakow in 2017 was Hotel Kazimierz (one of three similarly named hotels in the city), ideally situated in the atmospheric Jewish Quarter.
The staff were very helpful and the room clean, but unfortunately not too comfortable. The mattress had seen better days, probably those in the Communist era, and overall the establishment needed some TLC - wobbly banisters, loose stair rods etc.
The breakfast was passable but could be best described as 'a bit strange'. Although the selections included the usual bread, cereal, cheese, yogurt etc, plates held salad with croutons, chopped-up meat loaf and other savoury food, some of which suspiciously looked like it may have been there since dinner the previous evening.
The looks of incredulity on the faces of a group of strapping young guys, obviously expecting to fill-up with more substantial fare before they started their day, were priceless and one, muttering away in a heavy foreign accent, summed up his verdict in English - "Preez-on! (Prison!).
This fine bronze is of Jan Karski (24 June 1914–13 July 2000), a Polish World War II resistance fighter and later professor at Georgetown University. During 1942 and 1943 Karski reported to the the Western Allies and Polish government in exile in Great Britain on the situation in German-occupied Poland, with emphasis on the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the secretive German-Nazi extermination camps. Similar statues of Karski can be found in Tel Aviv and New York City.
The cobbled main square in the Jewish Quarter is lined with cafes and some fine restaurants and although some have outside tables, their indoor dining may actually take place down in the cellars which makes a nice atmosphere, especially if there`s some traditional live music.
I had intended to visit Auschwitz but there was no general access to the site on the day I had available due to `The March of the Living`. This international, educational program brings Jewish people from all over the world to Poland on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest concentration camp complex built during World War II. Hundreds if not thousands of those intending to take part in the march had temporarily based themselves in the city, and were immediately identifiable in their distinctive blue jackets and / or carrying blue rucksacks.
For over one thousand years there has been a Jewish presence in Poland. Throughout that period, there followed alternating periods of peace and persecution. During the latter, there were mass Jewish emigrations to the West – nevertheless by the 20th century, Jews formed 10% of the population of Poland.
On September 1st 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and over the next five years Poland would become a graveyard for the Jews of Europe. In 1939 there were 3.3 million Jews living within the Polish borders, by 1945 only 300,000 were left. The great synagogues burnt, thousand of Jewish buildings and prayer houses razed to the ground, ancient cemeteries uprooted, tens of thousands of books and ritual objects destroyed… an entire civilisation decimated. The Nazi extermination camps were all located in Poland including the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz.
Today Poland has seen a re-emergence of Jewish culture and life. Old Synagogues are being returned to communities, often to be used as museums. Across Poland there are hundreds of monuments and exhibitions dedicated to the Jews of pre-war Poland and the Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
This plaque near the Hotel Kazimierz commemorates Sinai Zygmunt Aleksandrowicz who was born in Krakow in 1877 and died in Tel Aviv in 1946. I believe he was known as `Father of the Orphans`, a title I assume is related to his actions during Holocaust, but with the inscription in Hebrew and Polish, I don`t have any further information at this time. The photos on the right were on display outside an adjacent old shop.