Krakow’s Jewish Quarter tour
On a very rainy day while visiting Krakow, Poland, I signed up for a free walking tour centered around Krakow’s Jewish history. Originally I chose this tour because the time fit with my arrival into Krakow and since it is off season, there were not a lot of options. But out of all the walking tours I took in my 3 weeks in Eastern Europe this fall, this is the one where I learned the most and definitely had the most feelings.
Our tour leader was a graduate of history at the University of Krakow so she was full of information. When the Kingdom of Poland was first being formed, Jewish people were welcomed and encouraged to settle here back in the 11th century.
Obviously, after the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and occupied it until 1945, all of that changed. Around 3 million Polish Jews were killed during Holocaust. Today about 10,000-20,000 Jews remain in Poland with varying degrees of secrecy.
Kazimierz is the name of Krakow’s Jewish Quarter and was once it’s own city. This is also where my tour started. The main square houses the former synagogue, named Old Synagogue sits at one end with many shops and restaurants lining the square.
The bookstore in the square is definitely worth a look. Sometimes in bookstores, I will take photos of the books I would like to remember to get on my Kindle, at the library, or my local bookstore if possible. The three books recommended to us that day were the Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy, Schindler’s Ark (the real title of Schindler’s List which was filmed in Kazimierz), and the Pianist (Roman Polanski grew up in Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto).
We crossed the Bernatka bridge over the Vistula River to get to the Jewish Ghetto. By this time in the tour it was sideways raining and the stories were becoming more and more horrifying. I learned a lot on this tour and was glad I did it but I definitely was sad the rest of the day.
I took the tram back over to Old Town and warmed myself up with a late lunch of some spicy tofu soup (not Polish) and a very delicious Polish beer. After four hours of walking in the cold, November rain discussing the Holocaust, I needed this.
Other things on my to-do list in Krakow included Schindler’s Factory where he was able to save thousands of Krakow’s Jews by having them work. I deemed this to be too heavy for me to tackle today so I grabbed a nice spot at a coffee shop in the beautiful main square in Old Town and read my book.
You can spend a lot of time meandering about the main square of Old Town and you should. It is amazing.
Eventually I was hungry again and found the most Polish comfort foods ever. Mushroom and cheese perogies were fantastic. There were over 20 different fillings to choose from so I just asked the waitress what was her favorite and I ended up with mushroom and cheese.
Krakow is also famous for their rose flavored doughnuts filled with jam. I can attest, these yeasty doughnuts are the best doughnuts I’ve had in a very long time! It would be a dangerous thing for me to live near a Krakow doughnut shop.