A history lesson of Krakow,Poland


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Europe » Poland » Lesser Poland » Kraków
June 23rd 2013
Published: July 1st 2013
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Our daughters often refer to their mother,Gretchen,as the wind up toy doll, as she races here and there, always busy and wanting to get things done.But this morning we met her Polish equal in the shared kitchen!Boy,did this woman move around the kitchen,crashing and bashing things as she prepared a Polish breakfast for her husband while he just sat over in the dining area waiting for it to be delivered.Wish I could get away with that!Luckily we had set our breakfast up before she arrived into the kitchen in a whirlwind and we sat back and just watched gobsmacked.

Gretchen had put together a walking tour of Krakow which would leave us very informed or as much as we could be in a day of the history of Krakow especially since WW2.

With the weather looking OK and a bit cooler than yesterday we set off to the bus stop and take the same route as we did last night when we spent some time in the city square.

You pay for your fare on the bus by inserting coins in a machine and then validate your ticket and do all this while the extra long bendy bus speeds and bumps along the bus lane which we must say work very well and get you to your destination fast.The only problem is you need to work the machine standing up while holding onto the machine or something else like your husband or wife!Not an easy job and the locals were no better at it either.The bus was pretty well full with all the seats taken and people standing and there were people who got on at our stop that didn't do the 'payment into the machine trial' and we assumed they had some form of pass or were hoping that there would be no bus inspector get on to check their ticket.

We retraced our steps from last night back to the city square which had just as many people in it this morning as there were last night and it is clear that this area is the focal point of the city.The place would have had a different feeling during the German occupation when the square was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz when the man put in charge of running the city,one Hans Frank a lawyer who worked for the Nazi Party, instigated a change in the names of all the prominent streets and plazas in Krakow from Polish to German.

We took a walk through the Renaissance style 'Cloth Hall' rebuilt in 1555 where you do get a sense of just how old this city is.There were over 50 small stalls selling local crafts at quite reasonable prices.

Across the square we poked our noses into the St Marys Basilica but being a Sunday there was a mass being held and the placed was packed,s r o,with parishoners and tourists.It was impossible to get a feel for the place which we like to do so decided to call back in at the end of the day.

Around in the small Market Square which also had its name changed during the German occupation to Adolf Hitler Square we watched children in traditional costumes perform Polish folk dances to some rather loud music.They were very good and it was pleasing to see so many boys involved and we wondered whether boys in NZ would be quite so keen(ex young Maori boys ,that is ,performing the haka).

As we headed off towards the Schindler Factory Museum we passed by a burger store name Moa Burgers which had a sign which included the image of a NZ moa.It wasn't lunchtime so we didn't go in to try their fare.A copy of their menu shows that they not only make a beef burger but also a lamb version as well.We were not sure what connection the owner has to NZ or whether it might be someone who had visited NZ and took the name home for a store.

We could have taken a tram the 3km to the factory across the other side of the Wisla River but we decided to walk the distance given that the day wasn't so warm as previous days and we could also take in the scenery and shops as we walked.

Schindlers Factory Museum has been built on the original site of the factory that Oscar Schindler,a Nazi party member who came to Krakow to set up and ran his business by using Jewish labour from the nearby ghetto and later the Plaszow Concentration Camp when the Nazis liquidated the ghetto.

The museum is extremely well set out and follows the history of the occupation of Krakow,the lives of its people during that time and then the liberation of the city.The history is told in videos and photos of locals who lived through those years and of course each have their own personal story to tell of the hardship and the brutality of the occupiers.

Schindlers story is told in an area set apart from the history of the city and his office has been recreated including the large map he had on the wall behind his desk and the creaking wooden floor.

The exhibits and the way the story of both Krakow and Schindler were truly amazing and we felt quite moved by it all.And what is worse people are still doing similar acts today to each other,take Syria for example.It seems man will never learn.

After over 2 hours of moving around the museum and taking it all in we were ready for some food and drink and although the a/c inside the museum kept us at an even temperature it was a different story when we emerged into the sunshine and the thought of a beer at a café just up the road from the museum was too good to refuse.

We started the walk back to the old city with the Jewish ghetto area in our sights on the way back.

Crossing back over the Wisla we turned left on a trail Gretchen had planned from the map we had which would take us to or past all the prominent points in the area which is now a trendy place with up market shops and cafes.

There were around 68,000 Jews living in Krakow when the Nazi occupation started after the invasion of Poland in 1939.When the Nazis decided in 1940 that Krakow would be the 'cleanest' city in Poland only 15,000 Jews were allowed to stay as workers while the rest were deported to concentration camps and ultimately murdered.

The ghetto was created by building walls and bricking up windows of buildings that looked out to the 'Aryan' side of the area.The entrances were guarded and traffic controlled to only essential movements.One thing the Nazis could not stop was the path of the #3 tram whose lines passed through the area although it was not allowed to stop.We had read a story at the museum of how people at times used to throw bread from the tram when it became obvious that those in the ghetto were deprived of enough essential food supplies to survive.

We walked the streets visiting a couple of churches before arriving at the Jewish Synagogue which had had exhibits added to it giving an excellent view of the Jewish way of life from birth to death and their important religious days and holidays.

Just nearby was one of the few remaining buildings that appeared untouched over the years since WW2 confirmed by a plaque attached to the building with a photo from 1939 showing that nothing had been changed on the now deserted building.

By the time we got back to the old city and climbed up to Wawel Castle it was after 5pm and getting too late to visit the interior of any other attractions that the city had to offer and in any case the sky had darkened over and by the time we were heading back to catch the bus home rain had started to fall.

We had been fortunate that again the weather had held off and not stopped us exploring a fascinating and beautiful city with more history than we could take in over one day.


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