The Jews of Kraków and its Surrounding Towns

Touring Jewish Kraków

Kazimierz - A Very Brief History

Europe's most architecturally and culturally significant Jewish quarter outside of Venice first came into being when the prodigal King Kazimierz the Great founded a city across the river from Kraków in 1335. He also granted the town free trade privileges. Kazimierz wasn't intended to be a Jewish quarter as evidenced by the presence here of two imposing Catholic churches, St. Catherine and Corpus Christi. In 1494 the royal court ordered that Kraków's Jewish population leave what we now refer to as the old town. With fatalistic tenacity, the majority resettled in Kazimierz. And there they stayed, transforming Kazimierz into one of the most significant centers of the Diaspora in Central and Eastern Europe. The death knell to the 'Kazimierz of Blessed Memory' came in September 1939, with the invasion by Nazi Germany. Though contemporary Kazimierz's Jewish population is small, the area is definitely undergoing a revival. Who knows? Maybe you will discover the faded traces of a century-old advertisement for a hat maker, or some other remnant of the lost world of Kazimierz. Note: when visiting synagogues or Jewish cemeteries men should wear some form of headgear (many places supply free paper yarmulkas).

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What to See

Isaac's Synagogue (Synagoga Isaaka)
ul. Kupa 16/ul. Jakoba 25, tel. (+48-12)/fax 421 77 22. Admission 6zl.
Judaic Baroque! Isaac's Synagogue opened in 1644, and is the most beautiful of the Kazimierz synagogues. There is also an element of the surreal about a visit here. In the main prayer hall life-size cardboard figures depict orthodox Jews of the old Kazimierz, and a large television screen beams the same two black and white films over and over. In adjacent rooms there is a moving series of photographs from the Kraków ghetto of World War II, and a darkened room where you can watch Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda, dubbed over in Hebrew, with French subtitles. Embroidered yarmulkas are sold at the entrance for 15zl; free paper versions are also available.

Gallery of the Centre for Jewish Culture (Galeria Centrum Kultury Zydowskiej)
ul. Meiselsa 17, tel. (+48-12) 423 55 95/423 55 87. Open 10:00-18:00, Sat, Sun 10:00-14:00.
Exactly as it sounds, the Gallery is equally if not more interested in exhibitions of contemporary Jewish art than historical works of antiquity. They're committed to keeping the culture alive, and do so by hosting shows, recitals, and various scholarly activities and cultural events.

New Cemetery
ul. Miodowa 55. Open dawn to dusk. Closed Sat, Sun.
New of course, is a relative concept in Kazimierz. This cemetery was established in 1800 and was the burial ground for many of Kraków's distinguished Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its story takes on a darker aspect with the decimation of the Jewish population between 1939 and 1945. Many of the tombstones are actually no more than memorials to entire families that were killed in the holocaust. They lie now, surrounded by weeds, and even more saddening, by despoiled, brutish graffiti and littered vodka empties. The rejuvenation of Kazimierz has not yet penetrated the New Cemetery's walls, but there are newly–lit candles burning over the headstones.

Old Synagogue (Stara Synagoga)
ul. Szeroka 24, tel. (+48-12) 422 09 62. Open 09:00-15:30, Fri 11:00-18:00. Closed Mon, Tue.
Built on the cusp of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Old Synagogue is the oldest surviving example of Jewish religious architecture in Poland and is home to a fine series of exhibits that showcase the history and traditions of Polish Judaism. The English explanations assume no great depth of knowledge on the reader's part, and are therefore a perfect primer on the subject. In the midst of all the glass cases stands the bimah (pulpit) enclosed in an elaborate, wrought iron balustrade. Upstairs, and there it is again, the irrevocable tragedy of this district, an inventory of the banality of evil preserved in sepia, with Nazi newspapers depicting their bullies 'restoring an old German town' (Kraków) and segregated seating on city trams. As we all know, still worse was yet to come.

Pharmacy Under the Eagles (Apteka pod Orlem)
Pl. Bohaterow Getta 18, tel. (+48-12) 656 56 25. Open 10:00-16:00, Sat 10:00-14:00. Closed Sun. Entrance: 1zl.
To get there, you must cross the Nazje?dzie Bridge to Podgórze, which became the new Jewish ghetto under the Nazis. The pharmacy's owner, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, decided to stay on in Podgórze and do all he could for the thousands of people who lived, often two or three families to a room, in this last stop on the way to genocide. The pharmacy is now open as a museum, which, heart renderingly portrays life in the Podgórze ghetto.

Remuh Synagogue & Cemetery
ul. Szeroka 16, tel. (+48-12) 421 29 87. Open 09:00-16:00. Closed Sat, Sun.
The smallest but probably most active synagogue in Kazimierz, and if you file in individually and quietly, you may even be afforded a glimpse of a service in process in this 454-year-old building. For five zloty, you may stroll through the cemetery, which was in use from 1551 until 1800. This holy burial ground was spared by the vandalism of the Nazis because many of the gravestones had actually been laid underground to avoid desecration during the 19th century occupation of Kraków by Emperor Franz Josef's forces. The tomb of the 16th century Rabbi Remuh is still visited by Jews the world over - some leave behind supplications written on tiny pieces of paper. Beside his tomb lies that of his wife Golda Auerbuch, the oldest in the cemetery.

The Schindler List

When you read Australian author Thomas Keneally's masterpiece Schindler's Ark, you realize how many places in Kazimierz, and beyond, reverberate with echoes of the mechanically precise mass-barbarism of the Nazi 'final solution'. Meditating on the history of this area can be extremely depressing. Perhaps that's why people cling to the Schindler story, and its cinematic qualities of heroism, rescue and redemption. Kazimierz, and the courtyard at ulica Józefa 12 is the starting point for our Schindler/Keneally/Spielberg inspired tour of Kraków. On 21 March 1941 the SS moved the entire Jewish community of Kraków over the Nazje?dzie Bridge into the cluster of 329 buildings that stood then at Plac Bohaterów Getta in Podgórze. There isn't much to see there nowadays, except the Pharmacy Under the Eagles. There are still traces of the ghetto wall too, between 25 and 29 ulica Lwowska, and at Boleslawa Limanowskiego 62, in a scrappy former playground behind a Podgórze school. Don't hang around there at night. This can be a tough neighbourhood. Nip back down onto the street and keep going until you find the corner of ulica Limanowskiego and ulica Józefinska, and take the path uphill to the somewhat derelict Podgórze cemetery. Keep going, and you will find the Austro-Hungarian fort, the Baszta Forteczna. Circle it, until you find the street tableau that lay before Liam Neeson when the plight of a little girl in a red cape inspires Oskar Schindler to acts of altruistic courage. On his arrival in Kraków, Schindler lived in a swank apartment upstairs on ulica Straszewskiego, somewhere between Plac Na Groblach and the intersection below Wawel castle. The Schindler factory and later his living quarters was in Podgórze, and still stands at ulica Lipowa 4 and is these days the Telpod electronics factory. Haggle with the guard (usually about 5zl) for a look inside. And what of the man that it is difficult not to see as the roguish but benevolent Oskar's evil twin, Untersturmführer Amon Göth? His villa is the only remaining edifice of the Plaszów Concentration Camp and stands, with terrible irony, on ulica Jerozolimska (Jerusalem street). The grasslands all around were the site of the Plaszów Concentration Camp. Prior to that, there had been a Jewish cemetery. These fields of shame are best toured with an informed guide. As for Göth's villa, it has changed hands several times since World War II. Local gossip has it that in the wake of Schindler's List one owner considered opening the villa as a restaurant, hotel or casino. We would sincerely hope not.

Guides and Useful Places

ul. Szeroka 2, tel. (+48-12) 429 13 74, tel/fax (+48-12) 421 71 66. Open 09:00 - 18:00, Sat, Sun 10:00 - 18:00.
Jewish bookshop also arranges guided Schindler's List tours, and trips to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Praktyczny Kazimierz (Practical Kazimierz)
ul. Józefa 7, tel/fax (+48-12) 423 52 44.
Monthly local newspaper.

Mr. Henryk Halkowski
Tel. (+48-12) 421 75 71, mob. 0501 41 09 93.
Mr.Halkowski is the author of The Legends from the Jewish Town in Kazimierz near Kraków, and can tell you just about everything there is to know about Jewish Kazimierz.

Bernhard Offen (Holocaust Survivor)
Tel. (+48-12) 0604 676 389,
Another one of the flamboyant characters of Kazimierz, Mr. Offen divides his time between the US and tours of Kazimierz and Auschwitz which bring a deeply personal perspective to the events of that time.


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Compiled by Eilat Gordin Levitan. Updated March 10, 2020 Copyright © 2007 Eilat Gordin Levitan (