Friday, 10 August 2012

Jewish Kraków

My cousin Teresa and her husband Peter are in Poland, visiting Kraków, so I went down for the day to meet them. After breakfast at their hotel, the well-located and well-appointed Andel's, we head off for Kazimierz, what was, before the Holocaust, the centre of Jewish life in Kraków. The place has come on in recent years, but I fear it's taken on a bit of a back-packy image now with hostels and cafés and bars aimed at the youth market.

Above: a quiet corner of the main square in Kazimierz. Elsewhere, a visual cacophony of typefaces, armies of young people trying to entice you take this city tour or to eat at that restaurant, flyers for music spots and clubs litter the pavements. The result is that a place which once had a unique atmosphere - and one that requires a degree of quiet reflection - is becoming like any other international tourist draw. A taxi with a sign in the rear window saying "AUSCHWITZ Salt Mine CHEAP" touts for business. Dreadful.

We visit the 16th-Century High Synagogue, one of six synagogues in Kazimierz. Below: the interior, photographed with the 10-24mm Nikkor, which really comes into its own in situations like this. The image is unaltered in Photoshop in terms of colour, saturation or contrast (converging verticals were corrected).

We press on, walking the streets of Kazimierz. Here is the Old Synagogue, dating back to the 15th Century (below), the view is of the side and rear of the building.

On we went, across the Vistula, towards the site of the wartime Jewish Ghetto (not Kazimierz, but a separate enclave built by the Nazis after they'd invaded Kraków) and thence towards the recently opened Oscar Schindler's factory museum. An outstanding place; an absolute must-visit. It's modelled on Warsaw's Uprising museum in the way exhibits are displayed and the way the story unfolds as you walk through it. Sadly, the museum's website is poor, and does little by way of encouraging visitors.

Above: Schindler's secretary's desk. The museum is vivid and powerful, extremely well designed. The story of how Nazi party member and entrepreneur Oscar Schindler saved 1,200 Jews working at his factory from death will be familiar to all who saw Steven Spielberg's film, Schindler's List; the museum places that famous episode into the context of Kraków under Nazi occupation and the tragedy of Poles and Jews alike who found themselves there.

Below: the last room in the exhibition - the Hall of Choices. A place to reflect inwardly on what you have just seen and internalise those thoughts. How do we react in the face of evil?

The area around Schindler's factory, Zabłocie (literally 'behind the muds') is becoming trendy. Just look (below) at the sophistication of the street art around here!

We made our way back to the Stary Rynek for supper; how touristy and banal it all seemed; yet safe and secure, a world away from the horrors and inhumanity that we must never forget, for it all happened less than seven decades ago.

This time two years ago:
Dismal graffiti yields to street art, W-wa Żwirki i Wigury
[Sadly these photos are for the record only; they were sprayed over by the mindless spray-can community weeks later]

This time three years ago:
A dove in the house

This time four years ago:
Coming in to land from the east


adthelad said...

Greetings :) Grammatically speaking 'behind the muds' would be 'za błotami' and 'behind the mud' would be 'za błotem'. My feeling is that Zabłocie probably come from zabłocone i.e. muddied and itself is best translated as 'muddied place'. I can see how someone at first glance might construe it with places like Zapłocie (probably rooted in 'behind the fence'-i.e. za płotem, as opposed to 'zapłocone' i.e. 'overly fenced' or 'with lots of fences'), but I'm inclined to see it in context of places like Zalesie which I would translate as 'wooded place' as opposed to behind the wood (i.e. 'za lasem').
As to Kraków's Kazimierz becoming denigrated I'm almost tempted to bash you on the head with scornful remarks like 'that's progress' or 'that's business for you' ;) but shall refrain. Oddly enough I am advised that the same thing has happened to Auschwitz. There for example, before the onset of 'modernity' and 'museum design' the place felt as if it had only just been abandoned (giving a chillingly real sense of the place). Now I'm told by a resident of Oświęcim that the 'tidied up', and 'glazed over' museum exhibit polishes and packages the experience to the detriment of the reality that it intends to preserve. Your words 'touristy and banal' seem most apt. You'd almost be tempted to think that truth was something that needed to be avoided. Sound familiar? ;)

p.s. am really impressed by your digital photo work - Carry On :)

adthelad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adthelad said...

n.b. I found this archived in the etymology section of the Wrocław University 'poradnia jezykowa' ( Zakącie - prawdopodobnie pierwotne Zakącie 'miejsce za kątem, za zakrętem',odnosowienie ą do a.Podobnie utworzone są inne nazwy tego typu: Zelesie (za lasem),Załęże (za łęgiem), Zabłocie, itd. R. Ł.
which chimes with your assertion but I'm going to write and ask about this 'prawdobodobnie' as 'zalesienie' means forestation and I can't quite buy that it's a certainty that someone would refer to a place that's obviously in a wood i.e. zalesione, as being behind it. Yes, there is a place called 'Przedlesie' which could mean the place 'before the wood' or 'within the forewood'(from przód and not przed), so although Zakącie or Zabłocie might be as you and the doctor of language suggest the ambiguity still exists (e.g. a zakątek is a nook so why should 'za katęm' be the definite etymological root). Without a definitive source the answer to the root of a place name will be open to conjecture.