Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saturday in Kazimierz and Krakow

On our final day in Krakow, we visited the famed Schindler Factory Museum.  The story behind this starts when a German man, Oscar Schindler, opened up an enamelware factory in Kazimierz that, during World War II, employed over a thousand Jews.  These Jews became known as the Schindlerjuden (“Schindler’s Jews).  Because Schindler employed them and found ways to help and protect them, they were spared from certain death at the various death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland.  The factory is today a detailed museum showing the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its affect on the Krakow area.

The entire exhibit made a big impact on us not only because of the information it contained, but also
Memorial in Krakow's Ghetto
Heroes Square 
because of the feelings that it tried to convey.  For example, one room describing life in the local ghetto showed that the Nazis built the walls around the ghetto to look like tombstones. They did this to show the Jews that they were facing their impending deaths.  Not only were the Nazis causing physical pain; they found ways to psychological terror, too.  We found the whole experience to be shocking and disconcerting.  Sitting together afterwards in the museum's café, we shared our insights and questions with each other.  

Old Town Krakow
full of goodies
Eager to move away from such deep sorrow, we turned in earnest to happier distractions for our afternoon free time activities.  In small groups, we found our way into Old Town Krakow for light-hearted shopping, eating, and fun.  The sheet amount of history and character in the Old Town squares are unlike anything in the U.S.  Krakow's square (rynek, in Polish) is especially massive, with little cafes along its sides, incredible restaurants and bars in every direction, a huge market building, and a big open stage with live music and performers.  In the middle of the square is a huge indoor market building, an old structure that had housed merchants for centuries.  We found that souvenir shopping is a way to go back and forth in time.  The market contains shops selling old-type garments like fur and modern era printed t-shirts.  Other stands offer shot glasses, carved music boxes, leather hand-bags, decorated ceramic mugs and handmade wooden chessboards.  Everywhere there are merchants selling amber jewelry.  Outside the market building we could find traditional Polish cuisine as well as the familiar American Starbucks.

Would you trust these boat pilots?
Three members of our group decided to go on a boat ride around Kraków.   After finding the small pier, Shant, Adam, and Professor Myers hopped onto a private boat piloted by an experienced Polish woman.  From the serene River Vistula, they gazed upon the gorgeous Krakow buildings.  After about 15 minutes on the boat, Shant put in place his personal philosophy ("always ask, and always say 'yes'") and asked the pilot if he could steer the boat.  To everyone's amazement, she said "yes, of course!"  After a while, Shant handed the wheel over to the others.  Who would've thought that this trip would include driving a boat through a river in Poland?

LeeAnn people-watching
from her hotel window
Saturday night was to be our last night in Poland, and the group dispersed to cafes and strolling through the town.  A couple of our group attended the Kazimierz event called 7@Nite.  For the previous six years annually it is a JCC event free and open to the public designed to celebrate Poland’s rich Jewish heritage and to introduce Poles to Jewish traditions.  Each of five Kazimierz synagogues and the JCC (Jewish Community Center) hosts a different presentation about Jewish life and culture.
Izaak Synagogue (where we
attended Friday night service)
featured a photo exhibit
about Ethiopian Jews

In all the 7@Nite venues, the presentations were short, only ten to fifteen minutes, in order for people to visit all the synagogues in a night.  Among the presentations was a multimedia slideshow about Jewish populations in India,  a photography exhibit of Ethiopian Jews, and photos and posters featuring current Jewish Poles.  Jewish food was being served in the JCC and a small crafting event to create a hamsa, the Jewish/Middle Eastern symbol of the human hand.  The streets were packed.  It seemed like thousands of people were on the streets attending 7@Nite and/or the local cafes and
bars.  It was both exciting and safe at night on the streets, and we could not imagine having such experiences back home.

Back at the hotel, everyone made sure their bags were packed for our departure from Poland the next morning.

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