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Monday, August 25, 2014

Krakow's Jewish Area of Kazimierz on 8/18

The Rise and Fall of Kazimierz: Founded in 1335 on the southern fringe of Warsaw, Jews in 1494 settled in a prescribed area of the town of Kazimierz, NE of the Christian quarter with the 2 sectors divided by a wall; the Jewish quarter became home to Jews facing persecution from all corners of Europe. It subsequently became the most important Jewish center of all Poland.

At the end of the 18th C., Kazimierz administratively became part of Krakow and in the 1820’s, the walls were torn down. At the outbreak of WW II Kazimierz was a predominantly Jewish suburb with a distinct culture and atmosphere. But most Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime in its extermination camps. Of the 65,000 Jews living in Krakow (most of whom lived in Kazimierz) in 1939, only about 6,000 survived the war.

During Communist rule, Kazimierz was largely a forgotten district of Krakow.  All that changed in the early 1990’s when Steven Spielberg came along to shoot Schindler’s List and everything changed overnight.

Remuh Synagogue and Cemetery: The area’s smallest and only one regularly used for religious services, it was established in 1558 by a rich merchant.The cemetery, founded in the mid 16th C., was closed for burials in the late 18th C. when a new and larger graveyard was established. During WWII the  German occupiers vandalized and razed the tombstones, but during postwar conservation work, some 700 gravestones, many of them outstanding Renaissance work and dating back 4 centuries, were uncovered.  It seems the Jewish faithful themselves had buried the stones to avoid their desecration by the foreign armies who repeatedly invaded Krakow in the 18th C. The tombstones have been meticulously restored, making the place one of the best preserved Renaissance Jewish cemeteries anywhere in Europe.

 The entire walls bordering the cemetery, shown above, were all built from remnants of the tombstones vandalized and razed by the Germans.
A closeup shot is to the right.

Out of Remuh Cemetery and in
another part of Kazimierz.

High Synagogue

We listened to a number of musicians
and a vocalist playing Klezmer music.

Who'd ever think we'd see a car with
Illinois plates parallel parking in Kazimierz?
Not me for sure!

The center of the Krakow Ghetto was Plac Zgody,
the ironically named 'Peace Square' which is today 
known as 'Heroes of the Ghetto Square.'  
This was where the process of selecting who would stay 
and who would be placed on the waiting trains 
to one of the camps was completed.
Today it's marked by a memorial consisting of 
70 empty chairs meant to represent furniture 
and other remnants discarded on this very spot by the deportees.

How refreshing to see these tangible signs of love
after being reminded yet again of such hate.
Each lock represents love and they are put up on
bridges or sometimes on trees in other cities;
 it was not uncommon to see them last year
on our trip through Russia.