Thursday's Child: Podgorze and Kazimierz, Krakow, Poland

Thursday, February 5, 2015
I wrote last week about visiting Schindler’s Factory in Krakow, Poland. This week, I’ll describe my visit to two areas of the city: Podgorze, the Jewish Ghetto during the Nazi occupation; and Kazimierz, the traditional Jewish district.



After the Nazis invaded in 1939, 20,000 Jewish people were rounded up and forced into 320 buildings in Podgorze with only a day's notice. Most of the non-Jewish businesses left the area, but Tadeusz Pankiewicz elected to keep his Eagle Pharmacy running. Pankiewicz was the only non-Jewish person living in the district, and he made it his mission to give comfort to those who suffered. His pharmacy was used as a secret meeting place for the underground movement. He gave residents medications that were expensive and hard to come by, and he and his employees smuggled in food and supplies for those in need. He even provided tranquilizers to keep young children quiet during raids by the secret police. 

The pharmacy has been restored to its original condition and converted into a museum. Each of the cupboards and drawers in this tiny, five-room museum contains information on living in the Jewish Ghetto. Especially moving were the photos of children and adults who lived in the area; the backs of the photos included their names and a brief story of their lives, including whether or not they survived.  

During the occupation, a wall enclosed the entire Jewish Ghetto, keeping residents inside and others on the outside. Most of the wall has been torn down, but a few sections remain, one of which is shown in the photo above. The plaque below commemorates that portion of the wall. At the beginning of World War Two, 60,000 Jewish people lived in Krakow; only 2,000 survived the war.
 
"They lived here, suffered and perished from the
hands of the Nazi oppressors...."
From Podgorze, I walked back across the bridge into Kazimierz. This area was originally founded in 1335, and before WWII was home to the largest Jewish population in Krakow. Although many of the beautiful synagogues and other buildings were destroyed beyond repair, a few survived the war and have since been restored.



Tempel synagogue, built in 1862, was badly damaged in the war due to its use as a stable. After the war, when the country was under Soviet regime, there was no money to restore it, and the building continued to deteriorate. Fortunately, it was restored by the World Monuments Fund. Now it's hard to imagine how degraded it was: the ceiling and balcony fronts are beautifully detailed, and the synagogue is lined with lovely stained glass windows along both sides.


My final stop on the walk was at Remuh Synagogue. Originally built in the sixteenth century, Remuh is the only Krakow synagogue still used regularly in worship. Many of the gravestones in its cemetery were destroyed during the Occupation. Some were reconstructed, but in many cases the pieces were too small to reconstruct. Those fragments were lined around the interior of the cemetery wall, and became Remuh's Wailing Wall. 



11 comments:

Catherine said...

Dear Beth, Thank you for taking me on this journey through your writing. It is both heart wrenching the horror these people endured; yet encouraging how people will help and risk for those in peril. Thank you for sharing. xo Catherine

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree with Catherine. In the very worst of times, we often see/hear about the very best of humanity

grace said...

though i'm not jewish, i've always been intrigued by their history. it touches me in such a unique way and i find that i actually want to learn about it, which really can't be said of any other piece of history (i always hated those classes). i liked this post, beth, and i hope to get there myself one day!

Natalie Aguirre said...

So agree with everyone else. I'm Jewish and this is hard to see but so important to remember.

Pam said...

This is an interesting post. The synagogue is beautiful and the wall is incredible. We went through Dachau, in Germany, one of the most interesting/worst places I have visited. Lots of people there that day, but you could've heard a pin drop. Have a good weekend!

Cakelaw said...

This is so interesting, although heart breaking that the Jewish people had to endure so much. Beautiful photos Beth.

Barbara said...

Another wonderful post, Beth. The story about Pankiewicz and his pharmacy was amazing and what an experience to see it. The photo of the wall made of gravestones was moving. A sad trip, but important.

Angie Schneider said...

Amazing story about Pankiewicz and his pharmacy and the wall looks incredible. Thank you so much for sharing, Beth.

scrambledhenfruit said...

Thank you for sharing these, Beth. It is inspiring to hear of those who risked their own lives to help others in need. The synagogue restoration is breathtaking, as is the wall built of gravestone fragments.

Gloria Baker said...

Thanks by sharing Beth!!

Mary @ The World Is A Book said...

What a great and interesting insight into such an important part pf history. I'm glad some of there synagogues survived and they have restored them. Its beautiful. I'd love to visit that small museum/pharmacy.

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