azimierz - Jewish Quarter
June 30 - July 6, 2002
Our first night in Krakow we walked the length of the old town, Stare Miesto, discovered but bypassed the Wawel, and as dark fell after one of the longest days of the year reached Kazimierz. This was the Jewish quarter before Krakrow was even Krakow, before what had been four separate villages merged to form Krakow, and long, long before the area to the south, across the Vistula, became the Nazi district of death.
In the new dark we walked around. There was plenty of life but the historic sites were all closed, giving an impression of a life that had been vibrant and lost. There are half a dozen synagogues, or at least buildings that were once synagogues, because now all but one serves another function. The "Old Synagogue" is now a museum; the High Synagogue is cultural center and museum.
We were to come back three more times, each time seeing a little more and internalizing the story of disappearance and now revival. On our last visit we were looking for a place to eat and thought we had found it at the west end of Szeroka. But we went in and found the place was shut for the filming of a holocaust survivor's story. She had been persuaded after many years to come back; there she was at a table among many cinema lights recounting difficult tales. We could see the lights for ourselves; the other details were relayed to us by a bookstore owner whose shop shared an entry with the restaurant. Whenever they were filming they would come and tell him to close his door and be quiet for a while. And that is how we stayed longer than intended and heard her — and his — story.
That is also how we found one of our favorite guides to Krakow that talked of the Jewish history of cultural vivacity and dreadful suffering. It is called "The Tailor is a Poet". We also bought a survivor's account of her time in Auschwitz to prepare us for the visit yet to come.