Day 17: Kraków Tours

My window in our dorm room

Today started out like every adventure ought to: with coffee. After having slept in a little later than normal this morning, we made the short trek from our dorms to the city square where we grabbed some Starbucks coffee and small breakfast items before meeting Dr. Lambert. It was a nice change to have something familiar to drink. There are golf cart tours practically flocking the streets of Krakow with drivers asking you in multiple languages if you are interested in riding around on a tour. In case you are considering visiting Krakow, here’s some advice: make sure that you get on a golf cart which fits your entire group comfortably and make sure you are getting a tour which is worth your money. The six of us climbed onto a golf cart with only five seats and it was seriously uncomfortable. The driver spoke English well enough but he spoke so quietly that it was difficult for me to hear in the middle row and even more so for the girls on the back.It was nice to not have to walk to the different locations, even if I did not learn more than what certain buildings were used for.

Corpus Christi Basilica

Our first stop was a cathedral not far from the main square known as Corpus Christi Basilica. Even after the short ride, I was thrilled to be out of the golf cart for a while to walk around. Once inside, I was awestruck by the ornate detail of the cathedral and all of the painstaking labor which much have gone into its construction and subsequent decoration.

One of the old synagogues in the Jewish quarter

We then drove from the main square of the old city to the Jewish quarter, also known as Kazimierz, where nearly 70,000 Jews once lived. This district was once one infused with rich culture and tradition as Kazimierz prospered. When the Germans began forcing the Jews into the ghetto in Podgórzo, they were forced to abandon their homes, synagogues, and belongings. Many of them were then sent to Płaszów, a nearby concentration camp, from which they would not return. It is estimated that only around 3-5,000 Jewish residents of Krakow survived WWII and Oskar Schindler, whose factory we got to tour later in the day, is credited with saving many of their lives. Today, only around 300 Jews live in Krakow.

The pharmacy in the former ghetto (Apteka Pod Orłem)

The driver then took us to see the area which was formerly the ghetto in Krakow. While many of the buildings are no longer recognizable for the crimes of their past, the old pharmacy was pointed out to us. This pharmacy was used not so much in order to keep ghetto residents healthy as much as to prevent epidemic from beginning the ghetto and spreading outwards. The pharmacy’s owner, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, was named “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1983 for his efforts to improve the lives and, in some cases save the lives, of Jews during the war times.

Ghetto Heroes Square

In the center of the square of the former ghetto are set up 68 empty chairs. Each chair represents 1,000 resident Jews of Krakow who were killed during World War II. Ghetto Heroes Square is most significant because this place was once the point of departure for thousands of Jews from the ghetto to surrounding concentration camps where they were to be murdered. Chairs were chosen for this particular monument as representation of all that was left behind the Jew’s houses and businesses when they were displaced. For an unknown reason, they are currently covered in crocheted netting and flowers which our tour guide couldn’t explain.

St. Andrew’s Church

Since traffic was not as bad as the driver had anticipated and we had a little extra time on our tour as a result, our driver took us to see St. Joseph’s church near the old ghetto area. St. Andrew’s is a gothic revival style cathedral which towers over the courtyard below. The storm clouds above only amplified the beauty of this structure which has cast a shadow over the happenings in Krakow since 1909.

Original gate to Schindler’s Factory (from the inside)

Finally, the golf cart driver dropped us off at Schindler’s Factory on which the movie Schindler’s List is based. Oskar Schindler is credited with saving around 1200 lives of Jewish residents of Krakow at the time of WWII by employing them in his enamel factory and thus preventing them from being sent to concentration camps. Today, the factory acts as a museum about life in Krakow around the time of World War II.

Exhibit on the work performed by prisoners of Płaszów camp.

We walked through exhibits about citizen life during the Nazi occupation, Jewish life in the ghetto, and Jewish life and death in the Płaszów concentration camp. We also walked through an exhibit about Schindler himself and his role in aiding the Jews while maintaining productivity in his factory. The exhibits were built to place those walking through into time and place being discussed which made it feel more real. Near the end of the tour, there was an exhibit which was made to look like Schindler’s office complete with a secretary’s office and waiting area. This particular exhibit emphasized the lives which were saved through Schindler’s efforts especially in creation of his list which saved 850 people from being transferred to Auschwitz. The rest of the museum is dedicated those who lost their lives.

Schindler’s office

After a quick lunch at Starbucks (round 2) and a few hours of rest, we rejoined Dr. Lambert in the square to head to dinner with some of his Polish colleagues. They had made reservations for us at a traditional Polish restaurant and I had predetermined to try something new. It’s not that I am tired of pierogis and pork chops, it’s just that…well…okay, yes I am growing tired of pierogis and pork chops. Instead, I opted to try some potato pancakes covered in beef stew which were absolutely incredible. As I always say about things which I enjoy, it changed my life and gave me visions. I washed it down with a large ice cream sundae and I have no regrets.

Potato pancakes with beef stew

Ice cream sundae

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