European Times Krakow: Jews return to scene of `Schindler's List'

WHEN ALLEN Haberberg first wrote to a contact in the Polish town of Dabrowa Tarnowska to try to trace his family roots, he had no idea he was starting a journey that would end in Eden.

Mr Haberberg, 37, a former metals trader, was born in New York. Like many Jews with roots in Poland, he wanted to discover more about his heritage.

He knew his grandparents had been killed in the Holocaust and were connected to Krakow. Armed with two letters, written by his grandmother in 1942, he travelled to Dabrowa Tarnowska.

There he met his contact, a pharmacist called Jola. She is now his wife. The couple bought three houses in Krakow's old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz and are converting the properties into a kosher hotel, the city's first, the Hotel Eden.

Scheduled to open next summer, the Hotel Eden is the latest project in the revival of Jewish cultural life in Krakow.

"I fell in love with Krakow as soon as I got here. I had a Jewish upbringing in America, but some part of me feels more Jewish living here than I did in New York," Mr Haberberg said. "I go to synagogue twice a week, which I would never have done in the US."

Until the Holocaust, Krakow was home to more than 68,000 Jews, a community made famous in the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Schindler's List.

The factory on the outskirts of the city that was once owned by Oskar Schindler still operates, though the nearby former concentration camp at Plaszow has been demolished. The house of the camp commandant, Amon Goeth, still overlooks the site. Ravens rest on a satellite dish, next to the balcony from where Goeth would take pot-shots at the prisoners.

Jews first settled in Krakow in the 13th century, and their numbers grew after they were expelled from Spain in 1492. By the 19th century Krakow was a centre of Jewish life in Poland, the country with the biggest Jewish community in Europe.

Only a few thousand Krakow Jews survived the war. Most of them left for Israel, Europe or the United States. Polish anti-Semitism and the pogrom of camp survivors in 1946 and a subsequent anti-Jewish campaign in 1968 reduced the community to a few hundred.

Now triggered, in part, by Schindler's List, but more by a slow change in attitude towards Jews among younger Poles and the Polish government, Jewish life is reviving.

Krakow once again has a Rabbi, Sasha Pecaric. Kazimierz's main square, Szeroka, is the site of a synagogue, a kosher restaurant, the Jarden Jewish bookshop and the Ariel Cafe, which hosts nightly concerts of Jewish Klezmer music.

The cafe, which has period furniture from the early part of the century, is modelled on a Jewish salon, the owner, Janusz Benigier, said. "Jews were part of Krakow's atmosphere, and something has gone from Poland with their loss. We lived together for ages and our cultures were cemented together.

"Jewish writers wrote in Polish, our music has Jewish roots, we even share a sense of being martyrs."

Lucyna Les, who runs the Jarden bookshop, said: "This is the last Jewish quarter in Poland that has not changed for hundreds of years. The old days, when Krakow was filled with Jews, can never come back, but we have to preserve as much as we can. Three million Jews lived in Poland and left their influence on almost every aspect of Polish culture, from art and poetry to cooking. They lived here and they were part of Poland."

Like many young non-Jewish Poles, Ms Les thinks the Holocaust created a vacuum in her country. "Many Poles have never met someone Jewish. People are afraid of the unknown but knowledge produces tolerance.

"Now something new is happening in the young generation, who don't look at Jews like their parents did.

"They come here and see how Jews live, what they wrote, what they eat, and how intertwined Jewish and Polish culture is."

This week marked the Day of Atonement, one of the the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. At the recently restored 17th century Isaac synagogue, once the glory of Krakow's Jews, two life-size cardboard cut-outs of Orthodox Jews stand in memory of the former worshippers, killed in the Nazi camps.

A video plays continuously, showing a film of the vibrant life of Jews in Kazimierz during the 1930s. A housewife haggles over the price of a chicken in the market square, young students at yeshiva - religious school - grin at the camera, while their fathers, clad in black hats and coats, gossip on street corners.

It is a vanished world of Polish Jewry, one that can never return.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before