Possibly the coolest part of Krakow, the Kazimierz district before World War II was the heart of the Jewish community in Poland. The Holocaust and Hitler’s Final Solution decimated the population of the area and it was not until the post-communist period did this place recover in any way. Today, Kazimierz is filled with hip bohemian bars, catering the local population rather than the touristic mock ups in the town centre.
I could go into the history of the Jewish population of Krakow, but I really could not do it any justice. For starters, I did not get to Auschwitz, which would have given a more complete history of the area. Now, I could have made time for Auschwitz, but I really did not feel like it. I still do not want to see the horrors of what is essentially a mass burial site. As I have mentioned previously, Poland’s history is turbulent. And while Kazimierz is hip and cool and all of that, it is not hard to forget that this is essentially a theme park. The people that made this quarter of the city distinct from the rest of Krakow were slaughtered. What you see today is essentially a hollow shell.
Anyhows, let me get back to the district. There is a small Jewish community still in Krakow. Post 1989, the country is a lot more tolerant and also more investigative into its past. And a few synagogues still remain, open to visitors. I visited one of them, the Temple Synagogue and the first synagogue I have visited outside the UK.
The inside was beautifully restored during the 1990’s and today it is a stunning piece of architecture. As Poland opened up after communism there has been a lot of interest from the Jewish Diaspora in this part of the world. In fact as I was leaving the Temple Synagogue, a group of American school kids had arrived as part of a heritage tour of the area. They were funny, mainly as they came dressed for the legendary Polish cold. They must have been from California, as it was positively baking in Krakow when I was there (hey, it was above 0C!). The weather felt more like Newcastle rather than Siberia. However it was fascinating to listen to the tour leader talk about the Synagogue, revealing the style of the building and the history of the Temple Synagogue.
The Temple Synagogue is one of around half a dozen still functioning Synagogues dotted around Kazimierz. Entry is PLN5 (just over GBP1). Dress conservatively if you decide to visit the synaogues, as they are still active places of worship. Men will be provided with a Kippah. You can take as many photos as you want inside. Saturday is the Sabbath, so I am not sure if the Synagogues are open to visitors on that day. Check with the tourist info booths in the city. They close early, so try to visit them before 3pm!