Sunday, March 24, 2013

Krakow, inside out

A legacy of loss

St John's chapel, one of several underground chapels carved out in Wieliczka salt mine

executivesummary by darmansjah

A lonesome rabbi in a long black coat walks along Kazimierz's quiet streets bordered by brick walls paled pink by age. Founded in 1335 as an independent town, Kazimierz became home to Kraków's Jews after their expulsion from the main city in 1494. Today, it's imbued with an odd silence: a legacy of the extermination of the city's Jewish population under the Nazis. Before the war 60,000 Jews lived here; now, there are barely 200.

The 16th-century Remuh Synagogue (ul Szeroka 40; 00-48-12-429-5735) is the only active synagogue left in Kraków and its cemetery contains row upon row of tombstones inscribed in Hebrew, carefully restored after Nazi damage. Adam Libon, the synagogue's caretaker, tells me about his father, a 16-year-old Jew at the start of World War II - he was taken to three concentration camps before being rescued by factory owner Oskar Schindler, who took Jan to work in his Kraków enamelware factory. Jan survived, dying three years ago, aged 84. 'It is very sad that so many people had to leave here,' says Adam.

Pockets of traditional culture survive: across from the synagogue is Klezmer-Hois (ul Szeroka 6;, a Jewish restaurant with lace tablecloths and sepia photographs of men with ringlets, who gaze down at us through the years.

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