Jewish Heritage Tour in Krakow (Self Guided), Krakow

Jewish community has been an integral part of Krakow since the late 13th century. On the eve of World War II, there were 60,000 Jews living in the city, mostly in the Kazimierz District, accounting for one-fourth of the local population. The old town square in Kazimierz was the center of Jewish life.

During the war, the Nazis separated Jews from the rest of Cracovians in a ghetto and attempted to ultimately eradicate the entire Jewish heritage in the city. Most of the Jews were sent to death camps from which the majority of them never came back. Despite such devastation, a number of Jewish establishments survived the ordeal and today stand to tell the story of Jews in Krakow.

On this self-guided walking tour, you will visit several historical synagogues, a Jewish cemetery and museum, the only pharmacy in the Jewish ghetto during World War II, and the former factory of Oscar Shindler. This trip is bound to give you a sobering experience that is most likely to stay with you for the rest of your life.
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Jewish Heritage Tour in Krakow Map

Guide Name: Jewish Heritage Tour in Krakow
Guide Location: Poland » Krakow (See other walking tours in Krakow)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: ellen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Old Synagogue
  • Szeroka Street
  • Ariel Jewish Restaurant
  • Remah Synagogue and Cemetery
  • Reformed Temple Synagogue (Synagoga Tempel)
  • Izaak Synagogue
  • Galicia Jewish Museum
  • Ghetto Heroes Square
  • Eagle Pharmacy
  • Oscar Shindler's Factory
1
Old Synagogue

1) Old Synagogue

The Old Synagogue (Polish: Synagoga Stara) is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue situated in the Kazimierz district of Kraków. In Yiddish it was referred to as the Alta Shul. It is the oldest synagogue building still standing in Poland, and one of the most precious landmarks of Jewish architecture in Europe. Until the German invasion of Poland in 1939, it was one of the most important synagogues in the city as well as the main religious, social, and organizational centre of the Kraków Jewish community.

The Synagogue was built in 1407 or 1492; the date of building varies with several sources. The original building was rebuilt in 1570 under the watchful eye of an Italian architect Mateo Gucci. The rebuilding included the attic wall with loopholes, windows placed far above ground level, and thick, masonry walls with heavy buttressing to withstand siege, all features borrowed from military architecture. The Old Synagogue is a rare, surviving example of a Polish fortress synagogue.

The synagogue was completely devastated and ransacked by the Germans during World War II. Its artwork and Jewish relics, looted. During the occupation, the synagogue was used as a warehouse. In 1943, 30 Polish hostages were executed at its wall. The Old Synagogue was renovated from 1956 to 1959 and currently operates as a museum. It is a Division of the Historical Museum of Kraków, with particular focus on Kraków's Jews. The exhibits are divided into themes dealing with birth, prayer rituals, diet, divorce and death.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Szeroka Street

2) Szeroka Street

Surrounded by old synagogues, mansions and some of Krakow’s oldest buildings, the Szeroka Street is a must visit when you tour the Kazimierz. More of a square than a street, the Szeroka was once a village of Bawół, which was incorporated into Kazimierz after the town centre was formed in 1340. Some of its buildings date back to the early 14th and 15th century whose edifices still tell tales of their respective eras.

Buildings that must not be missed here are the two very old synagogues, the Old Synagogue, established in the late 15 and early 16th century and the Remuh Synagogue, which also has a cemetery attached to it.

On the northern side of the Szeroka stands a ritual basin which receives its water from a spring. Called the Mikveh, it exists since the late 16th century although the structure underwent several reconstructions over the years. A walk around the Street will surely add to the number of interesting places that this place has to offer.

A rather recent addition to the place has been the string of cafes and restaurants in the area. Sticking to Jewish traditions, it is a great place to sit and experience the authentic Jewish way of dining and grabbing some delicious knick knacks.
3
Ariel Jewish Restaurant

3) Ariel Jewish Restaurant

Nowadays, Kosher culture is as much part of the Krakow culinary scene as it is part of the centuries-old Jewish tradition. Amid the variety of Jewish restaurants lining Szeroka Street there is one with reputation of delivering a truly unique dinning experience.

Situated in the heart of Kazimierz, on Jewish Square, amid five synagogues, the place is called Ariel – in honor of one of the four archangels, Uriel (the "Light of God"). Perhaps it is due to this Old Testament association and/or blessing from God that the local food – borscht, cabbage salads and Russian-style pierogies – are particularly delicious.

The interior is quite typical of the neighborhood, decorated in a charmingly cluttered style. The green room with a fireplace is cozy and full of character – resembling a 16th-century Jewish tenement house – manifested in an eclectic mix of historic paintings and vintage stuff.

In addition to six indoor dining halls laden with antiques and heirlooms from the past, the restaurant also provides outdoor seating in summer. Prices vary between moderate and not so.

If you care for live music, look no further, as you will fill find plenty of it at Ariel. In fact, live klezmer music is a popular lure for tourists here, albeit somewhat costly. In spring and summer the gigs are on everyday, but in winter you may have to call in advance or check their website to find out. Either way reservations are highly recommended. A gift shop and apartment rentals are also available.
4
Remah Synagogue and Cemetery

4) Remah Synagogue and Cemetery

The Remah Synagogue (Polish: Synagoga Remu) is a 16th-century Jewish temple and the smallest of all historic synagogues in the Kazimierz district of Kraków, Poland. The synagogue is named after Rabbi Moses Isserles (c.1525–1572), known by the Hebrew acronym ReMA (רמ״א, pronounced ReMU) who's famed for writing a collection of commentaries and additions that complement Rabbi Yosef Karo's Shulchan Aruch, with Ashkenazi traditions and customs. It is currently one of two active synagogues in the city.

According to one popular tradition Israel ben Josef, the grandson of Moshe Auerbach of Regensburg, founded the synagogue in honor of his son Moshe Isserles, who already in his youth was famed for his erudition. A more plausible motive for the synagogue's origin stems from the Hebrew inscription on the foundation tablet that implies that the synagogue was built in memory of Malka, the wife of Israel ben Josef.

Originally called the "New Synagogue" to distinguish it from the Old Synagogue, (Stara Bożnica), the Remah Synagogue was built in 1553 at the edge of a newly established Jewish cemetery (today known as the "Old Cemetery") on land owned by Israel ben Josef. The original late Renaissance style edifice underwent a number of changes during the 17th and the 18th centuries. The current building traces its design to the restoration work of 1829, to which some technical improvements were introduced during the restoration of 1933 conducted under the supervision of the architect Herman Gutman. During the Holocaust, the synagogue was sequestered by the German Trust Office and served as a storehouse, having been despoiled of its valuable ceremonial objects and historic furbishing, including the bimah.

The Old Jewish Cemetery, more commonly known as the Remah Cemetery is a historic necropolis established in the years 1535–1551, and one of the oldest existing Jewish cemeteries in Poland. It is situated beside the 16th-century Remah Synagogue. The cemetery bears the name of Rabbi Moses Isserles, whose name is abbreviated as Remah.

The cemetery was closed in around 1850; the nearby New Jewish Cemetery at 55 Miodowa Street then became the new burial ground for the city's Jews.

During the German occupation of Poland, the Nazis destroyed the site by tearing down walls and hauling away tombstones to be used as paving stones in the camps, or selling them for profit. The tombstone of the Remah (Rabbi Moses Isserles) is one of the few that remained intact. The cemetery has undergone a series of post-war restorations. As is common in contemporary Poland, all original tombstones unearthed as paving stones have been returned and re-erected, although they represent a small fraction of the monuments that once stood in the cemetery.

The cemetery holds the gravesites of many notable Polish Jews, including:

- Rabbi Moses Isserles, whose name is abbreviated as Remah, (ca. 1525-1572), buried there along with his family;
- Nathan Nata Spira (1583-1633),[3] Kraków rabbi and head of the Talmudic Academy from 1617 to 1633;
- Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller, (1578-1654), a Bohemian rabbi and Talmudist, best known for writing a commentary on the Mishnah called the Tosafot Yom-Tov.
- Yossele the Holy Miser, central figure in a well-known tale of Jewish folklore.
- Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, Chief Rabbi of Kraków.
- Izaak Jakubowicz, donor of the Izaak Synagogue,
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Reformed Temple Synagogue (Synagoga Tempel)

5) Reformed Temple Synagogue (Synagoga Tempel)

The Reformed Temple Synagogue located in the Kazimierz district is a unique example of the merger of Jewish and Polish cultures. The synagogue built in the late 19th century depicts the grandeur and freedom of the Jewish community before the World War II.

This beautiful building designed by architect Ignacy Hercok, best illustrates the neo-Renaissance or the Moorish Revival style of architecture. The rectangular building with its tall central section is said to have drawn inspiration from Leopoldstädter Tempel in Vienna, Austria. More impressive than the exteriors, the insides of the building can surely take your breath away. Adorned with stained glass windows, exquisite gold leaf that decorate the ceiling and walls, the golden wooden gallery, the interiors of the synagogue are truly impressive. The synagogue is probably among the few which doesn’t segregate the audiences according to their gender and also among the fewer that offer services in Polish, Hebrew and German.

The temple faced its darkest years during the World War II when German troops used the building as an ammunition storage area. The structure suffered a lot of damage during the War and was only restored in 1995. For its architecture or interiors or just simply its place in the history of Krakow, the Synagoga Tempel deserves a visit.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Izaak Synagogue

6) Izaak Synagogue

The Izaak Synagogue is one of the most beautiful, noteworthy and morose synagogues in Krakow. Built in the late 16th century, the Synagogue has its reputation of being one of the century’s most beautiful buildings in the Kazimierz district in Krakow. In fact, so magnificent was the building after its construction that Christians in the neighborhood were offended and revolted at the existence of a synagogue bigger than any other building in the region.

The synagogue was designed by two Italians namely Giovanni Battista Trevano and Giovanni Falconi. The entire structure was financed by Izaak Jakubowicz, also known as Izaak the Rich. A banker to King Władysław IV, many tales have been associated with the wealth that was accumulated by the man at that time.

Even though the Synagogue was one of the grandest buildings of its time, over the years it has undergone a great deal of misfortune. Under the occupation of Nazis during World War II, the Synagogue’s rich interiors were destroyed and damaged and the building was used as a warehouse. Post the War, matters did not improve and the Synagogue was used as an artist’s studio. The year of 1970 saw a devastating fire that engulfed the structure ruining it beyond repair. However the year of 1983 saw the first effort for its restoration and ever since constant renovation has brought this Synagogue back to life.
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
Galicia Jewish Museum

7) Galicia Jewish Museum

Established in 2004 by Chris Schwarz, The Galicia Jewish Museum takes its visitors through the journey of the Jewish community in Poland. The aim here is to open up the Jewish culture in Kazimierz to those who come and visit.

Through series of photographs and other media collected over the years, the museum helps one understand the blend of the Jewish community in Poland, its impact on the existent culture and lifestyle, as well as events the community has gone through. With a total of five exhibits, the museum ushers its visitors through conflicting emotions of residual anger, sadness, destruction, loss and, finally, resurrection of the community in terms of revival, restoration and preservation.

At the Galicia Jewish Museum, you will not find the regular pre-war photographs, documents and recordings. In fact, the museum strives to be different by portraying the recent past and its aftermath. It also holds educational nights, dance classes and other events that may interest visitors and locals alike. A museum unlike any other in Krakow, it is definitely worth a visit.

Why You Should Visit:
The size is spot on – you will learn a lot (Polish/English texts) without being exhausted. There are also excellent temporary exhibitions on a variety of matters, as well as an excellent bookshop and café.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Ghetto Heroes Square

8) Ghetto Heroes Square

What may appear like an abstract sculptural ensemble at a glance, in reality is a somber reminder of Europe's not so distant past in which millions of innocent people lost their lives. This old market square in Krakow, paved with blocks of grey syenite rock, is a poignant memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

The sculpted pieces of furniture – mostly chairs – and other urban items, like the waste paper bins, awnings of the tram stops, hand water pump, bicycle parks and the traffic signs stripped of their usual functions, represent the fates of many Jews decided on this and other similar holding areas, called “Umschlagplatz”, throughout occupied Poland during WWII. Here, assembled from ghettos for deportation, they were inspected prior to being sent to the Nazi death camps. A small police box still present on the north side of the square, which the Nazis, infamous for their ruthless meticulousness, used to identify and count the Jews, echoes those days filled with horror.

Evenly arranged across the 13,000 square meters of space, on a virtual grid of about five by five meters, are the chairs – all facing in one direction – resting on the slightly elevated metal platforms which create an illusion of floating over the pavement. This effect becomes even more apparent in winter when the square is clad in snow in stark contrast to the bronze or rust-colored wrought iron of the objects. Their size, slightly bigger than life, also adds a bit of dreamlike air.

Another notable site nearby is the Ghetto Eagle Pharmacy, sitting on the corner. The floor tiles at the far end of the square (diagonally across from the pharmacy) are placed at 90 degrees to the other surface and represent the former ghetto wall.
9
Eagle Pharmacy

9) Eagle Pharmacy

Before World War II, Eagle Pharmacy was one of the four pharmacies in Podgórze district. Its clients were both Polish and Jewish residents of the district.

On March 1941, the Germans established a ghetto in Podgórze for Kraków's Jews, Eagle Pharmacy was the only one within its borders and its owner (Jozef Pankiewicz) was the only Pole with rights to stay in it.

The Jews that lived in the ghetto chose the pharmacy as the place for conspiratorial meetings. Among them were: writer Mordechai Gebirtig, painter Abraham Neumann, Dr Julian Aleksandrowicz, neurologist Dr Bernhard Bornstein, Dr Leon Steinberg and pharmacists: Emanuel Herman, Roman Imerglück. Soon it also became a source of various medical supplies, which helped in avoiding deportation: hair dyes used for rejuvenating the appearance, luminal (fenobarbital) used to calm children while hidden, so they can be smuggled in luggage out of the ghetto.

During the bloody displacement at the Plac Zgody in 1942, Pharmacy personnel issued free medicines and dressings while its recess areas were used as shelters for saving Jews from deportation to extermination camps.

Pankiewicz and his assistants Irena Drozdzikowska, Aurelia Danek and Helena Krywaniuk were liaisons between Jews in the ghetto and the outside world, passing information and smuggling food. They also were depositaries of valuables entrusted to them by deported Jews before leaving the ghetto.

Today the former Eagle Pharmacy is a public museum.
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
Oscar Shindler's Factory

10) Oscar Shindler's Factory (must see)

The story of Oscar Shindler’s factory is something many of us know, thanks to Stephen Spielberg’s film, 'The Schindler’s List'. A German industrialist, who initially was just interested in benefiting from the German invasion of Poland, Shindler later became pivotal in saving hundreds of Jewish lives from the torture and death that awaited them in the death camps.

Shindler came to Poland in 1939 and bought a needle enamelware factory from the bankruptcy court. With the help of a German-speaking Jew, his accountant Itzhak Stern, he obtained 1000 Jewish workers for his factory. Workers from the Jewish camps were far cheaper and the factory did quite well. Schindler soon climbed up the societal ladder and became an important member of the Nazis in Poland. Although initially motivated by monetary gains, Schindler soon witnessed the plight of the Jews who were being gathered and deported to Płaszów. Horrified by the mass murder, Schindler started protecting his own workers, going to an extent of bribing, negotiating and even vouching for those who were physically unfit to work.

The museum is filled with photographs, documents, and tools that were used in the factory. The factory still instills a vibe of how it must have been back then, during the invasion and the struggle that came along with it. A sobering experience and a must visit if you love history.

Why You Should Visit:
This museum experience is unique, and the information is presented with an unforgettable perspective.

Tip:
You need to pre-book your ticket online (www.bilety.mhk.pl) for this extremely busy historical site, as the organization is rather poor with regard to the ticket office.
Consider getting a guide on-site for a 'whirlwind' tour; otherwise, plan to spend a few hours to fully engage with all the content as there's so much to read and look at!

Opening Hours:
Mon: 10am-2pm; Tue-Sun: 10am-6pm, every 1st Tuesday – closed (Nov-Mar); Mon: 9am-4pm, every 1st Monday – open until 2pm; Tue-Sun: 9am-8pm, every 1st Tuesday – closed (Apr-Oct)
LAST ADMISSION 90 MINS BEFORE CLOSING TIME
Sight description based on wikipedia

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