Thursday, October 4, 2007


Kazimierz is a district of Krakow just southwest of the old town center. It was home to many of Krakow’s Jews prior to WWII. (In case I haven’t mentioned it before, Krakow was known as a place of cultural and intellectual freedom and it is estimated that up to 25% of its population was Jewish.) Today, there are very few Jews remaining, but you can still see many aspects of the area’s Jewish heritage in the synagogues and cemeteries that have survived as well as the Yiddish inscriptions over the doorways of old buildings. Much of Steven Spielberg’s film Shindler’s List was filmed here (and Shindler’s factory still stands in a suburb nearby, though it is now producing electronic component parts).

Kazimierz has become the hot spot for Krakow’s youth – sort of a bohemian mix of coffee houses, jazz clubs and long-neglected buildings that are being renovated into apartments. We spent a late morning and early afternoon just walking through the streets (and stopping at a very interesting café for coffee on the Plac Nowy – the market square in Kazimierz). The feeling here is different from the Krakow center area. Most moving for us was the Remu’h Synagogue and cemetery, established around 1537. The only reason the cemetery survived WWII (when the newer Jewish cemetery had been destroyed) was that many of the gravestones had been covered with a layer of earth in the interwar years and just looked like grass and weed covered mounds. They are now being excavated and it is very powerful.

On days when I don’t need to go to the University, John and I have fallen into a routine of lazy mornings at home (which should be helped by our recent purchase of an old-fashioned stove-top espresso/coffee maker and the discovery of a coffee shop near-by that roasts and grinds coffee beans) followed by marathon walking to explore as much of Krakow as we can. We stop mid-afternoon for lunch/dinner at a new restaurant each day (Polish tradition is to eat the big meal in the early afternoon and just a light “lunch” in the evening and we have opted to follow). We have been having some wonderful meals for the equivalent price of eating at an Applebee’s or Logan’s. The absence of American chain restaurants is amazing: there are several McDonald’s and I think I’ve seen a Pizza Hut and a Subway, but that’s about it - no Starbucks, surprisingly.

I plan to spend most of tomorrow at the University, since my book boxes have finally been located and will be delivered to my office. I’ve been able to find internet sources for most of the material I need for Monday’s classes and the computer and printer in my office are finally working. John also picked up some computer cables at the “Saturn” store today (he had forgotten to pack both an Ethernet cable and the printer cable – things were a little crazy just before we left) so now we are fully connected and can print things in our apartment as well.

Notice the stones placed on top of the gravestones...from what I've been able to learn, the Jewish custom is to place stones on graves instead of flowers to symbolize the permanence of memory.

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