Inside the Stara Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, we learned about the history of Hasidism, a part of Judaism that reflects emotional piety of the people who practice it. From here we visited the Remu Synagogue, where Shalmi explained the first hyperlinks, contained inside religious texts. Outside of this synagogue, we walked through the Jewish cemetary, where Jews were given land to bury their dead.
As we walked down the sidewalk, Shalmi ran into a friend, Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Krakow, who invited us inside his center. He explained that the primary function of his center is to promote a thriving Jewish community, only 40 minutes from Auschwitz, where the doors are wide open to anyone who wants to come in. This center, dedicated in 2008 by Prince Charles of Great Britain, shows an optimism, and even though some of the members lived through the Holocaust, and are Holocaust survivors, the label isn't all that they are. They are people who overcame, and went on to have families, professions, and most importantly, they live.
After a quick lunch at McDonalds, we went to the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow. The Nazis forced the Jews to move away from their Kazmierz neighborhood, to a section of Krakow across the river. This ghetto was a sleeping ghetto--Jews left during the day to work in factories. From the museum that once was the pharmacy of Tadeusz Pankiewicz, we looked out over the open memorial, with chairs, that represent the furniture that the Jews carried over the bridge into these cramped quarters, where 17,000 people crowded into 320 houses.
We ended the day at the Plaszow Camp, which was built by the people from the Krakow Ghetto who believed they would survive the war because they are building a labor camp. They even built a barrack for children there, so they believed that their families would remain intact. However, on March 13, 1943, all Jews from the ghetto were supposed to report to the square at 7:00 a.m. Once there, all children under age 14 were told to line up separately. Their parents were told that they would come to Plaszow the next day. Those who didn't believe them rushed to the pharmacy and purchases one of two drugs: 1. Valerium--a drug that put their babies to sleep, so that a few parents could smuggle their babies into the Plaszow camp. 2. Cyanide, for suicide. At 1:00 p.m., the Nazis ordered those not in the children's line to start marching from the ghetto to Plaszow. They left behind what they were unable to carry. Their children were taken away and shot. Two days later, some parents were forced to sort the children's clothing, and found the clothing of their own children.
Who would have thought, even for a moment, that our day in Krakow would end with us inside the villa of Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow Concentration Camp, where Spielberg filmed parts of Schindler's List? After visiting the area of the camp where today lay the ruins of the Jewish Burial Hall and a memorial to Sarah Schenirer (this is the area of the camp that the HST 2009 participants cleaned up), we walked to the villa of Amon Goeth. While looking at the house from the street, we saw a gentleman come out of the doorway and wave us up the walkway. We, of course, approached the house with Shalmi and Ewa, our Polish guide, and immediately took him up on his offer to come inside. This man is the current owner and resident of the villa who is hoping to sell the house to the museum community of Krakow. This was an incredible chance meeting that demonstrates the importance of experiential learning and its possibility for rare opportunities that become profound teachable moments. Shalmi, Ewa and our group have never been inside the villa because it is privately owned. How fortuitous that we were walking down the street and the owner happened to see us standing outside his house and welcomed us inside.
After this completely surreal experience inside Amon Goeth's villa, we returned to the hotel to say goodbye to our historian, our guide and our friend, Shalmi.