Krakow: Where The Walls Speak For Themselves

I love to travel, and I have so far seen many cities and experienced many different cultures. Krakow, however, remains one of my favourite places. It is strikingly beautiful, with its array of architecture, history, culture and cuisine. I have visited Krakow three times now, and each time I have visited or discovered somewhere different. Furthermore, compared to the U.K., the city is extremely cheap - a main course in a nice restaurant can cost as little as the equivalent of £5. There is also the wonderfully tasty 'zapiekanka', something like an open pizza with your choice of toppings, normally for as little as six zloty (just over £1).
I could continue about the topic of food for a while, but this is not a foodie's blog and so I will get to the real subject matter. For whilst Krakow has a charming atmosphere and attracts thousands of tourists, it also has a tragic past from the days of the Holocaust.

Photos 1 - 6 (numbered in left-hand corner): The beautiful main market square and castle in Krakow, magnets for tourists. These heavily contrast with photos 7 - 11, which explicitly show the aftermath of the Holocaust in the city, even today.
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Krakow had a large Jewish population before the war, including its own Jewish District. After the war, during the Communist era, this area was left largely untouched and has since been left that way to showcase its originality and how it may have looked before the Nazi invasion of Poland. It was for this reason that Steven Spielberg chose to film 'Schindler's List' in the area.
Old synagogues, a market square and a large old Jewish cemetery exist here, all a few minutes' walk from the main Old Town, where tourist attractions such as the main market square and Wawel Castle are located (see photos above). Interestingly, one memorial in the district commemorates the 'Polish martyrs of Jewish origin', something of a hint to the old Communist line that it was the Poles who suffered the most during the Holocaust and not the Jewish population.
Walking across the river to the southern part of town, my partner and I went in search of Oskar Schindler's factory (photo 7). The factory has been turned into a museum and much of it has remained as it was when Schindler himself occupied it. Due to lack of time, we did not venture inside, but I noted the faces of those who owed their lives to Oskar Schindler which are displayed in the windows outside (photo 8).
There was still, however, one place I had not located. "Where was the old ghetto?" I wondered aloud. No map showed it, and besides, it was too large an area to pinpoint in one place. As I expected, it turned out to be very close to the factory. There are actually quite a few clues to its whereabouts, starting with a fragment of the original wall left standing (photo 9). Walking a little further along, surveying the buildings, I could see how they looked tired, blackened, run down (photo 10). Indeed, these were within the ghetto walls and appear as though they did in the 1940s. They speak of a terrible sadness: of families crammed into buildings too small to accommodate so many people; of the dead and dying that lay in front of such buildings when the ghetto was in operation; of those who left and never returned. On our way back to the main part of the city, we also came across what was once the main square in the ghetto for deportations. The memorial there consists of a good number of steel chairs, each one representing 1,000 victims (photo 11). I could only wish that there were less chairs on display, and I shuddered as I thought that this was just one district, in one city.

In the evening, my partner and I dined out in a small restaurant just within the Jewish Quarter. The weather was beautiful, music played from somewhere, and all around was the sound of chatting and laughter. I took a quiet moment to reflect that once this was also the scene of the local Jewish community, who were later mercilessly ripped from their home and culture by the Nazis.
I cannot recommend a visit to Krakow enough, for its contrast of both beauty and sadness and its interesting, but often tragic, history.