An early rise (at least for us) saw us leave the apartment and head for the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, ‘Kazimierz’. Only a short walk from the Main Square, Kazimierz was a place of coexistence and interpenetration of ethnic Polish and Jewish cultures for many centuries, its north-eastern part of the district was historically Jewish, whose inhabitants were forcibly relocated in 1941 by the German occupying forces into the Krakow ghetto. The Kraków Ghetto was one of five major, metropolitan Jewish ghettos created by Nazi Germany in the new General Government territory during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. It was established for the purpose of exploitation, terror and persecution of local Polish Jews, as well as the staging area for separating the “able workers” from those who would later be deemed unworthy of life. The Ghetto was liquidated between June 1942 and March 1943, with most of its inhabitants sent to their deaths at Bełżec extermination camp as well as Płaszów slave-labor camp, and Auschwitz concentration camp, 60 kilometres (37 mi) rail distance. Now though the neighbourhood has become one of Krakow’s major tourist attractions surrounded with rich culture that can be experienced in every direction.
In place of the terror that once plagued this area of Krakow are a number of key monuments and museums to ensure the history is never forgotten. One key museum that is vital to visit while in this part of Krakow is the ‘Oskar Schindler Factory’. Immortalised by Spielberg’s award-winning film Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler was a Nazi who saved the lives of hundreds of Polish Jews by employing them in his enamel factory. Although the museum focuses less on the actual factory itself, it is rich in vital information regarding the build up to the Second World War and the ill-fated treatment of the larger Jewish community by the German Nazi Occupation.
15 years ago Kazimierz was all but abandoned, but today many of its old churches, synagogues and cemeteries have been refurbished and are open to visitors. Offering plenty of quirky cafés and bars makes this district of Krakow the perfect setting for an afternoon of history balanced out perfectly by the rich social scene. This is exactly how we spent our last few hours in Krakow, we wondered the historic streets while stopping in a number of establishments for coffee and then later on beer.
Krakow certainly packs a sightseeing punch, with landmark architecture, medieval palaces and hard-hitting museums. Although the city is vibrant and busy, its rich history shines through in every direction, it offers the perfect location for a balanced break, history, culture, shopping and nightlife. Visiting the museums may become expensive if you sought out each one but the rich knowledge and better understanding you gain from them will surely stick with you and leave you yearning to learn more about this beautifully culture rich country.