Day 11 – Krakow

Our day began in the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz.  Shalmi gave us the history of why large numbers of Jews came to Poland in the 16th century when they were invited by the aristocracy. Jews came here and formed communities called shtetls in the rural, mostly unpopulated areas. Jews provided capital for the seeds that needed to be planted, and also had a monopoly on the sale of vodka and this became a very lucrative business. Jews became the tools of the nobility, who didn’t like them, but needed them. However, this put the Jews in a precarious position with the local serfs, who were Catholic.  Shalmi reminded us that Jews were outside of Christian law [ex lex] and therefore received their protection from the king who regarded them as his property.

The Jews were central in the advancement of this area; again, they were necessary, not liked, but tolerated. As the Middle Ages progressed, Jews came to this area in huge numbers. For Jews, Poland was a land of opportunity. Unlike the Jews in Germany and Prague, the Jews here did not assimilate; they acculturated. In Germany the Jews wanted to be German, but in Poland it was different.  By the 20th century, most Jews here spoke Polish.  They enjoyed the culture but did not seek to take on the identity as Poles.  This had much to do with the Polish-Jewish relations at the time.  By 1919, this caused problems with Poles who wanted to be identified by their nationality, and did not see Jews as a part of their nation, but instead saw them as outsiders, “the other”.  By 1939 in Poland, because of many factors, including a bad economy, the Poles had a very grave relationship with all minorities here, including the Jews, who represented 10% of the population nationally. However, because so many Jews lived in the heart of big cities, the population of Jews in these city centers, perhaps 30% – 60% their presence is felt more by the non-Jewish residents.
Shalmi also told us that while the Nazis themselves were Christian albeit not church-going, the Nazi ideology was against Christianity because it came out of Judaism, and anything that developed from Judaism was viewed as destructive. 
Our first stop in the Jewish Quarter was the Stara Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, also known as the Old Synagogue because it was built in 1407.  Shalmi told us how, when the king wanted Jews to come and manage his properties, Jews could not come alone, but needed to live in communities.  A Jew, for example, cannot pray alone, but ten men, a minion, are needed for prayer.  Jews also required a rabbi, a kosher butcher, etc.  This was all essential for the Jews because of their ‘open account with God’ that Shalmi had spoken of earlier.  As an exiled people, they needed to balance the practical [their existence in the real world amidst Christians] with the spiritual [their need to continue to abide by God’s commandments in order to have God forgive them and return them to their homeland in Jerusalem].  This meant Jews were ambivalent about their two roles.

Inside the Stara Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, also known as the Old Synagogue because it was built in 1407, Shalmi taught us about the history of Hasidism, a part of Judaism that reflects emotional piety of the people who practice it. Jews here were visible, because of their Hasidism, and kept their religious practices, which also set them apart. They closed their businesses on Saturdays because of the Sabbath, and opened them on Sundays. They wore clothing and earlocks which set them apart in appearance. Their identity was very deeply connected to their religious practices and beliefs.  Like Christianity, but unlike Judaism, Hasidism relied upon the personal relationship to God.  If you felt love for God, he will understand.  In Judaism, they were supposed to fear God, not love Him.  Shalmi pointed out the various parts of the synagogue that we were becoming familiar with, explained the difference between the menorahand the hanukkiyya,  and taught us that the Sabbath was the most holy day in the Jewish calendar.  The Sabbath represents the difference between the sacred and the secular, those two worlds in which Jews lived, and told us how the havdalah [meaning ‘differentiating’] were used to close the Sabbath.  Shalmi also told us about some of the practices of Hasidism, such as the method of teaching a young boy to read beginning at the age of three, by putting honey on a letter of  the alphabet and then saying the sound so that the child connects learning to something positive and sweet and the importance and rationale in the Jewish community behind arranged marriages.
From here we crossed the square to visit the Remu Synagogue, also known as the New Synagogue because it was built in 1650, which is currently under extensive renovation.  When asked why so many synagogues were still standing, Shalmi said that except for Kristallnacht, no official decree to destroy synagogues and cemeteries was ever given.  They were destroyed but this was because local authorities chose to take this action.  The yellow star and the Judenrat [Jewish Council in the ghettos] were universal, but not the destruction of synagogues. 

Outside of this synagogue, we walked through the Jewish cemetery, where Jews were given land to bury their dead.  We had seen one other cemetery located next to the synagogue in Prague (the Pinkhas Synagogue) and Shalmi reminded us that this was unusual.  Jews would never place a cemetery close to the synagogue unless there was no alternative.  However, since Christians told the Jews where they could live and where they could have land, this was the property allotted to them to bury their dead.  Shalmi shared several stories about individuals buried in this cemetery. 

Back on the street we saw a new addition to the Jewish Quarter, Kazmierz, a bench with a statue of Jan Karski.  In 1942 Karski had obtained eyewitness information as to what was happening to the Jews in the East.  He had disguised himself and was smuggled into a transit camp.  He took this information to London to Churchill and to the United States, meeting with President FDR.  Neither leader seemed to take the information seriously, either they were disbelieving or didn’t appreciate the immensity of what was happening, he later said.  They were fighting a war and that was the paramount concern;  the Nazis would later be punished for their treatment of the Jews he was told.  Shalmi had interviewed Jan Karski for Lanzmann’s Shoah documentary  and said he lived with the frustration of being unable to make these people realize the gravity of the situation, for the rest of his life.

We next visited the Tempel Synagogue, a reform Jewish synagogue which was built in the 1860’s when Krakow was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  The synagogue has Moorish designs on the ceiling and is quite ornate, reminiscent of the Spanish Synagogue in Prague.  It was dedicated to the Emperor Franz Joseph whom the Jews loved as he did them because in an empire with numerous ethnic conflicts, the Jews did not present any problems to his authority.  The Hasidic Jews, however, did not like this synagogue which incorporated elements of Christian churches such as the pews aligned and facing front, the mixed seating, and the fact that the day of prayer was changed to Saturday.  The Hasidic Jews said of the building,  that it was not a synagogue but a temple, for Gentiles.  The word ‘temple’ therefore, used to describe a synagogue, was originally a pejorative word referring to non-traditional Jewish synagogues. 



On our way to lunch, we stopped briefly to get a sense of the Jewish ‘goose’ market where Jews would do their shopping for the Sabbath and which is now both a fruit and vegetable market as well as a flea market. 
Our bus drove us across the Vistula river to the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow, where the Nazis forced the Jews to move. The Krakow Ghetto was a sleeping ghetto, where the Jews slept at night, and worked outside of during the day. The Jews ran this ghetto, and built the walls surrounding it in such a decorative way, showing their resilience and belief that this ghetto would be a new protected area, where they would be able to ride out the war.  We saw both of the remaining remnants of this wall during our drive to our next stop.

In front of the museum that once was the pharmacy of Tadeusz Pankiewicz,  Apteka Pod Orlem (Pharmacy Under the Eagle), we looked out over the open memorial, with chairs, that represent the furniture that the Jews carried over the bridge into these cramped quarters, where 17,000 people crowded into 320 houses. Shalmi told us the inspirational story of Polish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz whose diary documents ghetto life.

Inside the museum which has been totally transformed since our last visit, there is an exhibition about the Krakow ghetto and the role of Tadeusz Pankiewicz.  Visitors can open drawers, look into cabinets, browse through binders with quotes from his diary, smell substances in the numerous jars of chemicals, and search for information in a multimedia center. 
Here Shalmi explains that Plaszow Camp, located only 5 miles from here, was built by the people from the Krakow Ghetto who believed they would survive the war because they are building a labor camp. They even built a barrack for children there, so they believed that their families would remain intact. However, on March 13, 1943, all Jews from the ghetto were supposed to report to the square at 7:00 a.m. Once there, all children under age 14 were told to line up separately. Their parents were told that they would come to Plaszow the next day. Pankiewicz reports that some saw this as a bad sign and rushed to the pharmacy to purchase one of two drugs.  One of the drugs was Valerium–a drug that put their babies to sleep, so that parents could smuggle their babies into the Plaszow camp inside of suitcases.  Shalmi told us that 12 children are known to have been smuggled into Plaszow in this manner.  The second drug requested by many Jews was Cyanide, for suicide.  At 1:00 p.m., the Nazis ordered those not in the children’s line to start marching from the ghetto to Plaszow. They left behind what they were unable to carry. The following day, their children were taken away and shot. Two days later, some parents found out when they were forced to sort the children’s clothing, and found the clothing of their own children.
We drove past the Oscar Schindler’s factory, a recently opened part of the Jewish Museum of Krakow, so that we could see the gate to the factory, which is still the original.
Our final stop of the day was Plaszow labor camp where Shalmi explained the geographic set up of the camp and its function.  We stood at the site which was the hill of executions where Ukrainian  commando units would carry out the executions.  Shalmi explained the history of the camp over its two years of existence and described how a transport of 10,000 Hungarian women from Auschwitz in May of 1944  who came to Plaszow wearing striped uniforms, with shaved heads and numbers tattooed on their arms, was how the Jews of Plaszow finally learned what had been happening in Auschwitz, not far away. 


We had seen an exhibit at the Memorial to the Ghetto at the Apteka Pharmacy.  It was pictures of  Plaszow then and now.  As we stood at the execution site, we saw families picnicking, children riding bikes and playing fetch with their dog.  Shalmi said he loved it.  “It’s not respectful, but life goes on.”

We then walked to the villa of Amon Goeth who had been the commandant of Plaszow.  In 2011 we had walked to the villa and a man came out and invited us in.  He was trying to sell the villa and hoped we might be potential buyers.  He gave us a tour of the entire house.  Several times we have passed by the villa again, it was still for sale but no one seemed to be there.  So we decided to walk there.  As we came upon it, we were somewhat astonished.  Obviously someone has bought the villa and is renovating it.  The famous balcony [which can be seen in Schindler’s List with Goeth randomly shooting Jews in the camp] is now gone and it looks like the house will be totally renovated.   Life goes on.

On the way back to the hotel, Paulina pointed out Wawel Castle and told us the legend of the Krakow dragon.  We had a little time to rest up and prepare to walk to dinner in the Jewish Quarter.

39 comments

  1. What an experience to be inside the villa! We have enjoyed your Blogs so much, following your day-to-day adventures. We all miss you and look forward seeing you home soon.!!

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  2. Thank you for letting me part of your wonderful journey through this blog I feel like I have learned a lot through your eyes. Thank you for the daily input and the pictures. It was wonderful seeing them and seeing all of you. I wish you all a safe trip home. We missed you and cannot wait for your hugs. Mrs.T. you have given these children a lesson they will never learn in a history book. Thank you for your kindness towards my son and I know he will NEVER forget this trip. God Bless.

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  3. It's neat that you went to the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow. There were 17,000 Jews that lived in 320 houses. That is over 500 people per house. That must have been horrible. I don't know how they could have lived like that. It makes me sick to read the story about the Plaszow camp. I don't understand why they would kill all the children under 14 years old. Then the parents had to come back and pick up their children's clothes. I can't imagine who would ever think of this and how it could happen. There is now a McDonalds near there. It must seem crazy to eat at McDonalds right by where all this happened.It's also nice that you are meeting people that actually live there and have stories instead of just taking a tour. That really makes it a more interesting tour.-Dashawn Harden

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  4. I find it amazing that there is a Jewish Community Center at so close a distance from Auschwitz. I would expect the Jews to avoid this area or be mournful all of the time. But, these Jews have not wallowed in their painful memories. Inspirationally, they have rebuilt their community, vibrantly preserving their culture and rising above their misfortunes. Though they have not forgotten their tragedies, these Jews have made new lives for themselves apart from the Holocaust.-Molly Porter

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  5. Every once in a while when I go shoot guns at my grandpa's farm I look down the sight, and am reminded of this scene of Schindler's List. this leads to my memory of that wretched balcony. It's amazing that an inanimate object can, with now words, tell such an intimate, horror inducing story. The real challenge is not only putting what you saw into words, but then relaying the emotions that have been experienced as well. This is probably the most difficult part of possessing the memory that you now hold. -Charlie Sullivan

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  6. What an incredible experience you have all shared. I have learned so much through your experiences. What a wonderful culmination for those of you that have read and viewed so much about this for so many years. God Bless the teachers that have put this wonderful trip together! May you be able to share these memories with so many more people.Thank you.

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  7. I am posting here a day late since after reading all of the students reflections regarding Auschwitz my emotions and mind were racing too greatly to gather and organize my thoughts. The experiences that you all have the privilege to share are all too rare indeed. If more could truly understand as you now do what went on here whether you are Jewish or not, I feel it would help people grow and learn from our mistakes as a human race. My closeness to this atrocity especially with the loss of my father this past year, truly magnifies the significance personally and evokes a myriad of emotions. Most of my fathers family came from Skalad Poland …I don't even know if you are near there. I am so glad that considering the emotional day you all had yesterday that you could follow it up with such a great day today and with a Birthday celebration. Continue to have an enlightening journey and keep you eyes ears and hearts open.

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  8. Wow… it's hard to believe this journey is nearing its end…..with all you have experienced, learned and cried through… I know each of you will be touched forever.I am torn with today’s chance invitation…I can't say that being invited into that butcher of Hitler’s residence would be a part of the journey I completely understand or appreciate. Perhaps I would have had to been there.. With the unbelievable timing and being invited in.. to appreciate it…I think knowing how Goeth callously orchestrated some of the most evil and disgusting of acts continuously without regard for life whatsoever… is just not a person I can pay homage to… and then to see the villa in which he was able to return home to whenever he needed to… sickens me. I have to agree with Jordan… I cannot understand the reasoning in commemorating this villa and turning it into a into a museum. I guess this is where my anger comes out. I just can’t grasp wanting to be near anything whatsoever pertaining to him…..That being said… I applaud the experiences you have all amazingly gained. Shalmi — BLESS YOU forever for all that you have shared and taught my daughter Francesca.Mrs. Tambuscio, thank you seems so small in all that you have done. The amount of time you dedicate, and everything you do and have done not only for the 2011 Holocaust trip, but for all the groups before this one, and no doubt, for all those that will follow… you are a selfless human being and the best educator my child will ever encounter. So although it does sound small, truly I thank you. I know you have changed Frankie in a way that even she may not realize for quite a time. But changed her and the lives of so many in an amazing way. You have touched all of these 22 young adults and for this I wholeheartedly applaud you. I also thank all the other extremely dedicated educators with all my heart.I know I have tended to ramble on in this blog each day, and I apologize, but thank you for allowing me to let my feelings flow. This has been unbelievably therapeutic for a parent thousands of miles away. Safe traveling home everyone. And to my sweet, sometimes slightly nutty Francesca .. I can’t wait to see you, and hug you .. Like never before…all my love…Forever, Celeste

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  9. Its amazing to see the pictures of Amon Goeth's house because of the documentary we just started on Monday. Seeing pictures of the villa and correlating it to the shooting scenes in Schindler's List (which I had never seen before) makes me more and more jealous that I cannot be on this trip. And what a great coincidence that owner was there and you got to go inside. We didn't finish the documentary in class so I, too, wonder what the inside looks like and looking at the pictures of the balcony I can imagine the scene in Schindler's List with Amon on the balcony sitting and shooting people from the camp. I'm curious if the camp is/was really that close to his villa. I think it is a great idea to turn the home into a museum because of the documentary of Monika Goeth as well as the famous scenes from Schindler's List. The trip continues to look amazing and I am truly jealous of all you have gotten to see.

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  10. I just spent some time reading about Goeth and his disgusting part in the Holocaust. I wonder how the man who owns the house could have ever lived there all these years. I would have had a feeling of sorrow knowing who one of the the previous owners was! IF it is bought by the museum community surely it is will be put to a sensible use…NOT used to commemorate this individual. Just think of all the places, including Auschwitz, that have been kept as a reminder of the past. If they would have been totally destroyed all the great teaching tools would have been lost. They are NOT there to honor those that were responsible for the Holocaust, but to remind us how fragile life is, and we should never allow a manic to control others and bring on future atrocities. Again..this is what we all hope each of you takes from this trip. And then, go out and spread what you have learned. HONOR the victims and the survivors you have met. We hear only a few well known stories, such as the life of Anne Frank. You can enlighten many with the stories of the child screaming, \”I hope you die!\” to the mother. The reality of seeing children's shoes among the thousands you saw. The piles of hair that was shaved off…such an insult to those victims. Otto Wolf and his family's plight. You now have the job to become teachers…and I know you'll all make us proud!:o) Susan Kaprielian

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  11. Although I haven't posted a comment until now, I have followed your trip through this blog. You have experienced up-close and personally the people, places, and things of the Holocaust, and I know it has changed each of you forever. I imagine that you appreciate much more now than before the trip how vital a role you can and will play in booth making known the atrocities of the Holocaust and other genocides that continue to this day and speaking out in protest against them.Have a safe trip home…Shalom,Mrs. Keesing

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  12. That is so cool that you all got to drive by Oscar Schindler's factory. I just finished watching that movie in class and I find it so amazing that he saved all those Jewish lives.Meghan McAllister

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  13. Ms. Sussman this trip looks great. To be able to visit all these historical sites must be exciting. I wish I could have gone on this trip so much. It must have been exciting to see the factory that Oscar Schindler built in order to save Jews. It was somewhat amazing to see what he was able to do and if only there were more people that could of done what he did or tried to do what he did, maybe history would not be the same. But overall this looks like a great trip.

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  14. To see the ghetto of Krakow and the Plaszow Camp must have been so interesting. After watching Schindler's List, it amazes me just to image what the camp and ghetto look like now. And how lucky it is that you guys got to see the inside of Amon Goeth's villa! It surprises me that it is still intact, and I cannot imagine what it is like to walk inside of the villa, knowing what Amon Goeth did in the Plaszow Camp. I cannot wait to hear more details about the trip from Ms. Sussman!

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  15. To be able to see these sites in person must have been amazing. It's one thing to see pictures of these places and sites another to see them in person and be able to experience it all. In schindler's these places looked interesting to visit. In my opinion it would be a once in a life time experience to go and visit one of these camps. This looks like an amazing trip to be a part of.

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  16. It is so weird to see how sickly the Jews and other people were treated in the ghetto. Going to see them and being in presence of something that not to long inhabited hundreds of thousands of people who were treated like dirt must have been life changing.

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  17. Hey guys!!! How's your trip going? Are you learning things you never thought you would ever hear? What was the inspiring thing you ever saw and what was the worst thing? Hope to see you soon! Miss you so much Amanda.

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  18. I'm not exactly sure if \”I hope you're having a good time\” is a proper greeting because from these photos I can see the pain of the past reflected on the faces of the future. I hope you are all having a great experience and we are all missing you.\”Anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized.\” – Adolf HitlerRemember that it is all of you who are working to make this quote untrue.

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  19. I am fascinated about the Hasidic tradition of using honey on a letter to teach a child how to read. Such a wonderful concept — teaching a child that learning is sweet and something to be savored. Continued safe journeys …

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  20. Reading about your experience has been incredible. I hope that everything that has touched your hearts and minds will be shared with our school community…and the world! Thank you.

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  21. I loved watching the video of Colleen, explaining the area that the 2009 HST took special care of, showing how this area has been continually cared for since. This is a perfect example of how all of us can make a major difference in what may seem to be the smallest of places. They transformed an area that was overgrown and disrespected into one that is now cared for and respected, for this tour and others to visit and learn. I hope everyone who visits leaves with a sense of pride and determination to pay it forward…

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  23. The Nazi ideology states that \”anything that developed from Judaism was viewed as destructive\”. Nazi believe that Christianity formed from Judaism which is incorrect. Let's just say that Nazis were correct what if Hitler won WWII he would most likely put the Christians inside the concentration camps because they are of some form of Judaism and by their ideology any form of Judaism is destructive.

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  24. The story of the Plaszow camp was truly heartbreaking. It's true that life goes on but thanks to students and teachers like you, and all the wonderful people you've met, the people and their stories will never be forgotten.

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  25. The story about why the Jews came to Poland definitely connects to what we learned about in the beginning of the semester, like how the Jews were prohibited from certain job occupations. Therefore, the only occupations available to them were the least admirable and wanted jobs, such as the selling vodka. I am surprised to read that the Polish people did not welcome the Jews and considered them as outsiders, being that by the time of World War II, Poland held the largest amount of Jews.

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  26. The trip sounds like there is a lot going on and a lot of interesting knowledge being shared. I find it fascinating how the Jews could not come to pray on their own, but had to be joined by others to create a religious community. I’m having a hard time understanding why the Nazis hated the Jewish religion, because even though it preached a different thing, Christianity still came from it, it is part of their religious history. The holocaust survivor you met, Jiri Fiser, has a very sad and unique story, since you don’t hear about many twins who were part of Dr. Mengel’s experiments. It is sad to think that such small children were used as guinea pigs in such a inhumane process. I hope you continue to enjoy you time there, seeming like you are learning a lot.-Haley Ferrufino-Jurs

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  27. Knowing that come World War II Poland had the most amount of Jews, I was also very surprised to learn that the Poles did not welcome them. I was also surprised when reading about the \”old\” and \”new\” synogagues, as my understanding was that synagogues were also destroyed and plundered just as often as Jewish homes and businesses. That is the new thing that I learned—aside from Kristallnacht, the synagogues were not systematically destroyed. The fact that people hung out in the sight of the old camp as though it was any average park and the fact that the historic home of the commandant was being renovated was also interesting to me—but, as Shalmi said, life goes on—and so does history, with the help of teachers like him and students/bloggers like you. Thank you!

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