Oskar Schindler’s famous factory in an industrial area of the Podgorze neighborhood south of the Wisla River (and south of the Kazimierz district where we are staying) has been turned into a very powerful museum tracing the history of the 5+ years of the Nazi occupation of Krakow and Poland and the devastating effects for Jews and other Poles. Apparently Steven Spielberg helped increase tourism to Podgorez and especially Kazimierz by filming “Schindler’s list” on site. Like the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk, this museum uses artifacts, old photos, old films, survivor interviews and recreated settings to give you a real feel for the time and place. Like the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, I found that I got choked up at first but then quickly sobered and pushed through the museum. We will see it this works with Auschwitz, which I am trying to steel myself for a visit tomorrow.
Podgorze was the Jewish ghetto where Jews in the Kazimierz neighborhood and elsewhere in Krakow were forced to relocate by the Nazis before they were moved to concentration camps. Today, there are plaques all over the area explaining what various buildings and sites became during the Nazi era, including most powerfully a central square where Jews were deported, beaten, executed, separated from their families et al. Today it is an expanse of asphalt with a sculptural tribute – 70 large metal and achingly empty chairs and is called Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterow Getta). Holocaust tourism, for lack of a better phrase, is a strange thing,because you cannot help,but feel uncomfortable about it,,guilty even.
We also visited some far more cheerful places in the area including MOCAK, a contemporary art museum in a striking modern building next to Schindler’s factory and BAL, a hipster cafe/restaurant with artsy people hidden in a still industrial area behind MOCAK (and tricky to find). It is on Slusarska Street, an evocative name for us since it is very close to the last name of good friends of ours back in Iowa.
We trekked back to Kazimierz, crossing a cool new pedestrian/bike footbridge whose grates are filed with padlocks, each inscribed with the names of lovers and sometimes dates ( apparently this is a tradition akin to the one D. saw in Odessa, where newlyweds declare their undying love by padlocking the bridge and throwing the key into the river). we rested our (yes) aching feet at Mieckamia, one of Kracows most scenic beer gardens, on Mleczarnia Street near the central hub of Plac Nowy, where we later picked up some blueberries and cherries at the fruit stalls (I was also tempted to buy some of the dill pickles, which looked like the kind we had for breakfast.)
Tonight we went to Klezmer Haus, an old restaurant serving Jewish,food and klezmer music. Nice to see some jewish traditions still alive….excellent “Jewish caviar” aka chopped liver although different then my grandma’s, not creamy but instead dry chopped liver with shredded egg on top.