Velcome to Poland
Trip Start Mar 07, 2006
56Trip End Jun 30, 2006
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This morning, we had a short guided tour around the city, and then free time in Krakow. I spent most of my time touring Kazimerz, the old Jewish Quarter, and the area of the former WWII Jewish ghetto. An awful lot has been either preserved or restored since the war. I saw Oskar Schindler's actual factory, where a memorial plaque has been set up. A small section of the wall of the ghetto is all that remains. The main bridge from Kazimerz across to the ghetto section is now just a standard section of road, but there were photos everywhere of what it was like when all of Krakow's Jewish population had to walk across the bridge with nothing but a travel bag and bedding, to "relocate" to the ghetto upon Nazi orders.
Kazimerz itself survived the war surprisingly intact, and much of it has been restored as well. A number of synagogues remain, as do schools, mikvahs, and even some shops. Of course, there are next to no Jews living in Poland right now, but in recent years Jewish culture has become oddly "cool" here among students, artists and other people who flock to the Jewish quarter to hear klezmir music and eat in the many "kosher-style" restaurants. There is a none-too-surprising tendency amongst the locals to glorify the resistance fighters, exaggerate how much they cooperated with or tried to help Poland's Jews, and emphasize the common suffering while whitewashing the antisemitism that existed in Poland at the time which made so much of what the Nazis did possible. Understandable, of course, but a bit disconcerting nonetheless.
This afternoon, I rejoined the tour and we headed to the salt mines, which were unbelievably cool. We had to go down hundreds of stairs to reach the mines, but luckily there was an elevator to go back up. There are sculptures, chapels and chandeliers everywhere, all made out of salt. Very different.
Early night tonight in preparation for tomorrow's trip to Auschwitz, which, needless to say, will be a sobering experience. But to me, it's an important one, and I expect I'll have quite a bit to say about it afterwards.