While Krakow may not have been obviously physically damaged very much by World War 2, it was famously damaged in an equally serious way through the extermination of its Jewish population.
Before the war, there were around 70,000 Jews living in the city, largely in the suburb of Kazimierz, just outside the old town. The signs of the former population are obvious – several synagogues, two cemetaries (sadly closed when we there), and now lots of Jewish theme restaurants. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the latter – keeping the memory alive or tacky tourist traps? Sadly we didn’t have the time to stop off at the Galicia Jewish Museum to see more of the history, something I’ll definitely remedy when I return.
After the German annexation of Poland, the Jews were moved into a ghetto in Podgorze, just over the the River Vistulafrom Kazimierz. 15,000 were crammed into houses that had formerly housed 3,000 people, and they were walled in before eventually being moved to Auschwitz, a few hours away. The square where the trains left from is now called Ghetto Heroes’ Square. The square is now filled with a memorial, made up of oversized bronze chairs, symobilising the posessions that were abandoned in the square as the Jews were deported.
Other than the memorial there is very little sign that the ghetto ever existed – one small fragment of wall (which we didn’t find) is all that’s left. On the other side of the railway line from the square is Oscar Schindler’s former factory, where he famously saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews. Apparently it’s due to be redeveloped as a museum; it’s in quite an out of the way location and nothing much seemed to be happening while we were though, so it remains to be seen what will happen to it.
These days Podgorze is very quiet and a bit off the tourist trail; Kazimierz on the other hand is thriving both with its Jewish theme restaurants but also with most of the coolest bars in Krakow, one of which is a reminder of yet another key part of the city’s past – it’s called Propaganda, and is a communist theme bar. Lenin would be spinning in his grave.