Kazimierz the Jewish Quarter of Krakow

kazimierz krakowAlthough Kazimierz is defined by it’s past rather than it’s present it is still a haunting experience to explore the side streets and squares of this area. For many years Kazimierz was something of a ghost town after years of neglect by the Communist regime.However, more recently the area has become a mecca for “Schindler tourists” and this renewed interest has in turn has led to re-development making Kazimierz now one of the trendiest areas of Krakow.

With an atmosphere completely unique from the rest of Krakow, Kazimierz has become the artistic and intellectual soul of the city and this is reflected in it’s open air concerts, exhibitions, antique shops etc. Kazimierz, which used to be a town in it’s own right and was founded back in 1335. It soon became a haven for persecuted Jews from all over Europe. Jews have lived in the Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz for over 500 years but after WWII less than 10% of the Jewish population survived. Today, only an estimated 100-150 Jews live in Krakow.

Once the visual context of the area can be understood then there is much to appreciate with several places of historical significance. Surprisingly, all seven synagogues survived the war (some in better shape than others). The Isaac’s Synagogue (Synagoga Izaaka) is the largest and was built around 1644. The photo on the right was taken outside the Ariel restaurant in Kazimierz.

Only recently returned to the Jewish community in 1989 there are still original features visible such as the wall painting decoration and original stucco. The building now houses virtual exhibitions utilising documentary footage of the district in 1936 and the expulsion of the Kazimierz Jews to the Krakow ghetto in 1941. The Old Synagogue (Stara Synagoga) is the oldest Jewish religious building in Poland dating as far back as the 15th Century. Today the building houses the Museum of Jewish History. In the plaza in front is a monument to 30 Poles shot by the Nazis.

Kazimierz star of davidThe Remuh Synagogue and Old Cemetery is actually the smallest synagogue in Kazimierz but the only one still used regularly for religious services. The cemetery is situated just behind the synagogue. During WWII the Nazis desecrated the cemetery razing the tombstones to the ground. After the war, workers discovered more than 700 tombstones buried under the earth. Historians claim the Jews themselves hid the tombstones 200 hundred years earlier to protect them from repeated invasions on Krakow from foreign armies. Some of the stones are works of art in their own right.

Both the cemeteries and synagogues require male visitors to don a kippah (or “skull-cap”). These are provided at the entrance either free of charge or for a small nominal fee.

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