Krakow or Kazimierz?

Well, it’s raining and raining…and did I mention it’s raining? Who knew that it would be raining in May? Then again, they got a foot of snow in Colorado a couple of days ago. But enough about the weather.  I have to admit, everyone in the group is an amazing sport!  No one is complaining about the rain.

Today’s  Adventure kept us in Kraków but actually in Kazimierz,  The Jewish quarter of Kraków. What is amazing about the city is how it was not destroyed during  World War II. That was because the Nazis hoped to use it as a home city in Poland because of its beauty as well as excellent buildings and access to the river.

Our first stop is to the Rema Synagogue  where Rabbi Moses Isserles, the “Rema”, lived.  He was a commentator on the Shulchan Aruch,  giving it the  Ashkenazic flair.  Behind the synagogue is the cemetery where he and other Rabbinical leaders are buried. Interesting fact, during the late 1500s and early 1600s, the Swedes came in to Poland and other European countries and completely plundered them. As this was happening, the community wanted to ensure the safety of all of the gravestones in the cemetery by laying them flat and burying them. However,  the gravestones were forgotten for many generations and when a new community came in, they buried their dead on top of the old cemetery. It was in the early 1970s with excavations in the back of the synagogue where  found the old original gravestones from before the 1500s were found.  All of them have since been re-positioned in the cemetery along with the newer headstones. There is still a section of the hill where they have not been excavated.

Our tour took us to two other synagogues, the Altshul synagogue,  The oldest synagogue in Poland and the Temple, the first modern Orthodox synagogue.  It was pretty amazing to see so many synagogues including ones that we did not even go into with in such a small area. It was a reminder that the Jewish community has been in Poland since the year 1000. We also visited the the Galicia Jewish Museum,  containing a beautiful photographic display of the history of Kraków and the Holocaust.

Before our final stop, we visited the Krakow Umchlagplatz memorial, now called Ghetto Heroes Square.  It is in the Square that there is a memorial containing 65 empty chairs. These empty chairsrepresent the 65,000 Jews who lived in Kraków prior to the holocaust. Today, there are less than 500 Jews. However as we will see you tomorrow night for Shabbat, the community is growing.  It was fitting for it to be raining well reviewed the memorial and remembered those who left from that place on trains to the extermination camps.

Our two museums for the day included We ended the day at the Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory Museum.  It is an amazing museum I can definitely take more than an hour to see. It is more than just about Schindler it is also about the history of Kraków during World War II.

We got back to the hotel a little earlier today and all of us enjoyed a little downtime and early dinner. Tomorrow will be an early day as we head to Auschwitz – Birkenau. It’s going to be a heavy day, one that honestly I have no idea how I will react. I’ve been teaching and studying the Holocaust for so many years but there is something so different about walking in these footsteps.