Thursday, April 5, 2012

Day 12 Krakow


Our day began in the Jewish Quarter, Kazmierz. Shalmi gave us the history of why large numbers of Jews came to Poland in the 16th century when they were invited by the aristrocracy. Jews came here and formed communities called shtetls in the rural, mostly unpopulated areas. Jews provided capital for the seeds that needed to be planted, and also had a monopoly on the sale of vodka. According to Shalmi, Poles really like alcohol, so this became very lucrative. Jews became the tools of the nobility, who didn't like them, but needed them. However, this put the Jews in a precarious position with the local serfs, who were Catholic.

The Jews were central in the advancement of this area; they were necessary, not liked, but tolerated. As the middle ages progressed, Jews came to this area in huge numbers. For Jews, Poland was a land of opportunity. Unlike the Jews in Germany and Prague, the Jews here did not assimilate; they acculturated. By 1919, this caused problems with Poles who wanted to be identified by their nationality, and did not see Jews as a part of their nation, but instead saw them as outsiders. By 1939 in Poland, because of many factors, including a bad economy, the Poles have a very grave relationship with all minorities here, including the Jews, who represent 10% of the population. Because so many Jews lived in the heart of big cities, the population of Jews in these city centers, their presence is felt more by the non-Jewish residents. Some helped Jews, some killed Jews, but most were bystanders who saw the Nazi actions during the Holocaust as solving a Polish problem.

Inside the Stara Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, also known as the Old Synagogue because it was built in 1407, Shalmi taught us about the history of Hasidism, a part of Judaism that reflects emotional piety of the people who practice it. Jews here were visible, because of their Hasidism, and kept their religious practices, which also set them apart. They closed their businesses on Saturdays because of the Sabbath, and opened them on Sundays. They wore clothing and earlocks which set them apart in appearance. Their identity was very deeply connected to their religious practices and beliefs.

From here we crossed the square to visit the Remu Synagogue, also known as the New Synagogue because it was built in 1650, which is currently under extensive renovation. Outside of this synagogue, we walked through the Jewish cemetary, where Jews were given land to bury their dead.

Our bus drove us across the Vistula river to the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow, where the Nazis forced the Jews to move. The Krakow Ghetto was a sleeping ghetto, where the Jews slept at night, and worked outside of during the day. The Jews ran this ghetto, and built the walls surrounding it in such a decorative way, showing their resilience and belief that this ghetto would be a new protected area, where they would be able to ride out the war.
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. Shalmi told us the inspirational story of Polish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz whose diary documents ghetto life.

Here Shalmi explains that Plaszow Camp, located only 5 miles from here, 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. Pankiewicz reports that some saw this as a bad sign and rushed to the pharmacy to purchase 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. The following day, their children were taken away and shot. Two days later, some parents found out when they were forced to sort the children's clothing, and found the clothing of their own children.

After lunch at McDonald’s, we drove to the museum at Oscar Schindler's factory, a recently opened part of the Jewish Museum of Krakow. We passed a part of the original ghetto wall, which was built by Jews, and shows an ornate style. We tour the exhibit at Schindler’s factory, which focuses extensively on the Nazi occupation of Krakow during the war, and the Polish viewpoint of the ghetto.

We returned to the hotel to say goodbye to our historian, our guide and our friend, Shalmi.


  1. I just saw the video of.the presentation at the monument. Not understanding a word of the report--actually, I may have picked a reference to Anne Frank--one could perceive that something very rare--sacred--was happening. I sent the following in an email to Mrs. T.: I cannot describe the many emotions running through me right now. This is, indeed, amazing! I ask, "Why you?" "Why our kids?" Immersed in these moments, this time and place. I have to believe that all of this contributes in very special ways to the preservation of a history that is not history because of the life you all breathe into the lives of those whom you honor and celebrate. Looking forward to your return. Be safe.

    Mr. Polizzi

  2. Just watched the video. I wish I knew what they were saying...but I'm still so proud of all the accomplishments of the students involved!!! And, BTW...Colleen, I LOVED your name written in Polish when you were being interviewed!!
    Safe travels home to share all that you have seen and learned!!! Go out and spread this vital information!

  3. As if this blog wasn't a strong enough connection to your memories of this trip; you're now all connected via Czech TV! What a wonderful addition to your memories. Like the other posters, despite not understanding the language, I was able to discern the gravitas of the ceremony and the import placed on the memorial.

    I also enjoyed the final pic in today's blog. It's great to see the closeness your group has attained; I would imagine that your travels have brought you together. They say that people who experience strong situations form a bond; this pic is evidence that you are now among an elite group who are the only ones who can truly understand your journey. At home, we live vicariously through your posts and pics, and we look forward to when you are home and can take your journey and breathe life into it for all of us.

    Therein lies the beauty of your experience. It will last forever as your keep sharing your stories of those who can no longer share their own. Continued safe travels.

  4. It was awesome to see the news report, even if we could not understand a single word! As your trip winds down, hopefully you will have time to reflect on the HST in totality and really have a deep appreciation for all you've seen and heard.

    Enjoy your last day on Friday and stay safe!

  5. So interesting that just yesterday, we were watching Schindler's List in your absence and you guys got to see the real thing. I can't wait for you all to come back and share the experience in person. I'm so grateful that we get to participate in this trip, even if its all second hand.

  6. Unfortunately I was not able to view the video but I was able to get the website and English and read what they had written about about the memorial dedication. It is truly amazing to see teachers that I know and admire being recognized in a foreign country!!

    It is a shame how from the time the Jewish people moved to Poland they were used by the poles, and were kept around because the poles "needed them". It makes me sick to read that the Polish people saw what the Nazi's were doing to the Jews as a solution to a Polish problem. I really wish they would have had people supporting them and fighting for them. I always think of the poem by Martin Niemoller that I fist saw in the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. that goes "First they came for the communists,and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." If we do not speak out for others and stand up for what we know is right one day there will be no one to speak out for us. These people all had hope that the War would end and they would be free aging but many people weren't fighting for them.

    Sometimes I wonder if the hope that all the Jewish prisoners had just hurt them. In the story you learned about today they must have believed that their children were coming to join them in the camp shortly and hoped for their meeting there but imagine how they must have felt to learn their children were dead by finding their child's clothes while sorting clothing. They had so much hope for the future of their child but that was all ruined when they saw the clothes that their child had been wearing. You would never expect to have all the hopes and dreams for someone ruined by seeing a garment of clothing.

    Enjoy your last day tomorrow and have a safe flight home! See you all soon.

  7. I sincerely hope that each one of you had a life changing experience on this trip. It is now your responsibility to come back to New Jersey, Kansas and California and bring all this information into your everyday lives. Mrs. T always talks about "teachable moments" and I want to urge you to not be shy when you recognize those moments when you are with your family and friends. Use those times, not just the weeks that follow, but the years, to share your experiences with anyone who is willing to listen. This is knowledge that needs to be shared. You have been given the privilege to walk the grounds of Theresienstadt with Pavel, one of the most remarkable men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, you have seen the ruins of the gas chambers at Auschwitz and you have learned the history behind it all. So when you return, tell the stories of those who didn't live to tell their own.
    I hope you all return home safely and I cannot wait to read each of your reflections in this year's book!

    Meredith McCann

  8. I cannot imagine the fear of being told to line up with the probability of dying. Having to chose whether to take your own life or have someone take it for you is a choice no human should ever have to make. It is also really awesome that you got to see Schindler's factory in person. We have watched Schindler's list in class and it is great to be able to compare it to the real thing.

  9. The video on Czech TV was amazing!!! What a wonderful accomplishment for all of you to have made "history" and have it recognized by thousands of people who tune in to TV.
    I cannot wait for your safe arrival home tomorrow and to walk in the halls, work in the classrooms of such brave and enlightened students and the marvelous teacher who made this all possible!
    Safe journey home!
    Mrs. DePoto

  10. What a moment in time for New Milford High School and all Holocaust survivors! I am so proud of all of you--as far back to the HST students who began the efforts of the memorial there in the forest several years ago. Personally, to see the pride in the faces of Petr Papousek and Milos Dobry--who I have only READ about to this point in the past booklets-- it meant so much to me. In terms of the language barrier, I understood every word-- dignity and respect and humanity.

  11. Wow!! Colleen, I remember when this was just in the discussion stage and now it has happened!!! This tribute / memorial is absolutely awesome and I am so proud that it is there, and that people from our little school across the world helped make that happen. Congratulations- we are soooo proud of you guys!!!

  12. To me, the Krakow Ghetto's people seems to be one of the most hopeful and resilient ghettos of the Holocaust. From the comment about the people building ornate walls as a sign of hope, to the movie my class and I watched about the Krakow resistance, the ghetto essentially seems that it was one that had the most perseverance towards a better future for it's inhabitants.

  13. Your journey has been both heartwrenching and hopeful, and now on this first night of Passover, you all truly comprehend the strength and resilience of the Jewish people and all who are oppressed. I am so proud that you have become such an important part of history yourselves, and the Czech video is a testament to your achievements! I look forward to hearing your stories and seeing your photos!

  14. From watching the Schindler's List, I can connect with what you all witnessed on your day in Krakow. Reading about your visit to the memorial in Schindler's facory and learning more about the Plaszow Camp really solidifies the information we learned while you all were gone. It is unbelievable to me that the Jews would rather take their own lives than have their lives taken under the Nazis. For that I respect all who were persecuted and know I will knew be able to relate to all the suffering they experienced. Safe travels home and can't wait to hear more about the tour!

    -Lindsey Whigham

  15. It's amazing to hear that the Jews in the Krakow ghetto were so resilient and tried as much as possible to make their living conditions a little more bearable. It's also very heartbreaking to hear that parents had to give up their children or kill them, and some even had to sort through their own child's clothing after they knew they were killed. I can't even imagine what it's like to have to make the choice of whether to kill your own child or let them be killed by someone else.

  16. It is interesting to see Schindler's actual factory after watching it just a few days ago. It must have been amazing to be at the memorial dedication because the news piece looks interesting. It is also interesting to hear about the stories of the people in the Plaszow ghetto such as the pharmacist.

  17. It appears to me that the Jewish migration to Poland is quite similar to the migration of Italians to America. Both played a key role in the selling of alcohol, and also provided capital for those in their community in need once in the new countries. Some other things that make them similar are their strong sense of community and the lack of acceptance they acquired upon their immigration into the different countries. These similarities are ironic because the Italians were criticized for being catholic when they immigrated to America in the 19th century. Their catholic beliefs in the new Protestant nation restricted them to working blue collar jobs as low-class citizens. The discrimination against Italians in America began before the holocaust, yet Mussolini still acted as a bystander while his ally, Hitler, murdered over 5 million Jews. 

  18. I think it so cool that you guys visited Schindler's factory the same time that we were watching the movie in class. It is so awesome that these students have the opportunity to have a first-hand account of the places that we are learning about in our Holocaust class.

  19. I think it is so sad to hear about the Plaszow ghetto. The jews thought that they were going to survive and that their families were all going to stay together but it ended up being the complete opposite. I don't understand why the Nazis took away all of the children and shot them. That is so sad to me. :( I think it's cool how you guys saw Schindler's factory! Im jealous.

  20. I completely agree with Cara! I hope everyone has already seen the movie Schindler's List so they can visualize everyone working there and what the factory must have been like. Such an amazing movie!!

  21. I'm going to have to agree with a few people and say that I think it's great that you guys got to go to Schindler's factory. Schindler's List was so good, definitely one of the best movies I have seen about the Holocaust.

    I found the part about some of the parents finding their own children's clothing after the children were killed very disturbing, I can't even fathom how heartbroken those parents must have been.

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