Hope rises above Krakow's haunted past

New vitality has come to Poland's second largest city's evocative Jewish district, says Mary Novakovich

In its long history, Krakow has withstood attack numerous times – from the 1241 sacking by the Mongols to the deadening hand of communism. But few periods have been as poignant as the revival of the Kazimierz district, which had been home to Krakow's Jews since the 14th century and was almost wiped off the map in the Second World War.

The Nazis had started deporting Krakow's Jews by 1940, forcing the remaining 15,000 into a ghetto across the Vistula River in the Podgorze district. On 13 and 14 March 1943, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto, destroying centuries of Jewish culture. Kazimierz was neglected during Poland's communist years, but in the 20 years since Steven Spielberg filmed Schindler's List in the district, Jewish culture has been undergoing a revival.

One of the catalysts was the film, which drew tourists to the area and, in turn, businesses to cater for them. Another was the annual Jewish Cultural Festival in June, which began 25 years ago to reintroduce Jewish life into a community that had been robbed of it. Restaurants, bars, shops and cultural centres have sprung up in Kazimierz's narrow streets and squares, making it one of the buzziest areas of Krakow.

Start in Ulica Szeroka – more of a square than a street – where a simple stone monument pays tribute to the 65,000 Krakow Jews who were killed by the Nazis. Beside it is a white gate leading to the 16th-century Remuh synagogue, one of the two in the district still used as a house of prayer and, like the other five synagogues, almost completely rebuilt after the war. The Nazis also did their best to destroy the adjoining cemetery; it too has been rebuilt, its smashed tombstones used to build a particularly evocative wailing wall.

Restaurants fill Ulica Szeroka, with café tables spilling outside now that the long Polish winter has drawn to a close. At the other end is the 16th-century Old Synagogue (mhk.pl), the oldest in Poland. Under its beautiful vaulted ceiling is a fascinating museum of Krakow's Jewish history and daily life.

Leaving the synagogue, turn right and immediately right again into Dajwor. Soon you reach the Galicia Jewish Museum (00 48 12 421 68 42; en.galiciajewishmuseum.org), a hi-tech, contemporary space devoted to the history of Jews not just in Krakow but also in southern Poland – formerly called Galicia.

Follow the road to the left and turn right into Starowislna. Within a few minutes you cross the Vistula River and into the Podgorze district. To your right is a rather nondescript square, Plac Bohaterow Getta (Heroes of the Ghetto), from where Jews were deported 70 years ago. The only clue to its horrific past is a simple sculpture of empty bronze chairs, one for every 1,000 Krakow Jews killed.

From here it's about a 10-minute walk to one of the most captivating museums you're likely to see. At the square, turn into Ulica Kacik, head under a tunnel that's a memorial installation to the victims of Auschwitz and walk over the railway line to the familiar white Art Deco exterior of the offices of Oskar Schindler's factory (00 48 12 426 50 60; mhk.pl). Well-crafted exhibits evoke what life was like for all of Krakow's citizens under Nazi occupation. It's at once chilling, enlightening and utterly absorbing.

As you retrace your steps, you come back to the square, where Jadlodajnia Restaurant (00 48 12 656 20 75) is a good place for a lunch of Polish dishes such as pierogi (potato dumplings) for 10 zlotys (£2). Head down Targowa at the south-western corner of the square and turn right on to Jozefinska, where plaques mark the ghetto's significant buildings.

As you arrive back at the river, cross the new footbridge and take the street facing you, Mostowa. Eventually you'll see Kazimierz's handsome 17th-century Town Hall on your left (also home to the Ethnographic Museum; 00 48 12 430 55 75; etnomuzeum.eu), and the 15th-century Corpus Christi Church (00 48 12 430 6224; bozecialo.net).

At the next right, on Jozefa, walk under the arch at No 12 beside Pub Stajnia and through a pretty courtyard of two-storey flats. Film buffs will recognise this peaceful setting from one of the most dramatic scenes in Schindler's List, when the ghetto was being liquidated.

Turn right at the end of the path and you reach the agreeably scruffy Plac Nowy, one of the liveliest squares in Krakow. At the centre is the dark green rotunda that had been the old Jewish slaughterhouse and where food stalls sell the staple Polish street snack zapiekanka, resembling a baguette pizza.

From here it's less than 10 minutes to Krakow's Stare Miasto (Old Town), with its wealth of medieval, Baroque and Renaissance architecture. Leave Plac Nowy via Estery, turn left into Miodowa and right into Stradomska. On your left will be Wawel Hill (00 48 12 422 5155; wawel.krakow.pl), within whose walls are the former royal residence and the imposing Wawel Cathedral.

Veer right along Grodzka to end your walk in Market Square (Rynek Glowny). Europe's largest medieval town square is an enchanting hotchpotch of history: the Gothic St Mary's Church (00 48 12 422 0521; mariacki.com), the Renaissance Cloth Hall and a medieval museum (muzeum.krakow.pl) lurking beneath, the tiny 11th-century St Adalbert's Church (00 48 12 422 83 52; kosciolwojciecha.pl) marooned in a corner. Summer brings café tables outside, but winter is just as pleasant under the vaulted ceilings of the cosy underground restaurants.

Fresh cuts

After extensive renovations, the museum at the Eagle Pharmacy (00 48 12 656 56 25; mhk.pl) in Plac Bohaterow Getta has reopened in time for the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto. The pharmacy had been the only non-Jewish business allowed in the ghetto, and its owner, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, is regarded as a hero for helping to save lives. His eyewitness accounts of the everyday life in the ghetto – as well as its destruction – form part of the exhibition.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Krakow is served by Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester and Stansted; easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) from Belfast, Edinburgh, Gatwick and Liverpool; and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) from Newcastle.

Staying there

The four-star Hotel Wentzl (00 48 12 430 26 64; wentzl.pl) is on Market Square, Rynek Glowny. Doubles start at 780 zlotys (£162), including breakfast.

More information

krakow.pl; poland.travel

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells