Thursday, April 16, 2009
Polish history is very complicated and I won’t try to relate it, but everyone there is very aware of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis during the German occupation. Krakow had a very large population of Jews, who lived in an area which is now part of the city. Estimates vary but the consensus seems to be that there were over 60,000 Jews in Krakow before the war, of whom only 2000 survived by escaping the city or just by not being killed in the camps. Nowadays there are only 200 people in the city who identify themselves as Jewish, and only one synagogue is used for services out of the 90 active ones before the war.
It’s so hard to conceive of such inhumanity. And it would be some tiny comfort to think that nothing like that will never happen again. If only.
There’s a memorial to the dead in a square in the formerly Jewish part of the city. It takes the form of 33 larger-than-lifesize chairs on illuminated plinths and 37 smaller ones, arranged in the otherwise empty space. We heard various explanations of the symbolism of this memorial. One is that the chairs represent the furniture thrown out of the ghetto apartments after the Jewish people were sent to the camps. Another is that the empty chairs symbolise those who have gone and will never return; and a third that Jewish people will now always be welcome in Krakow. Any and all seem appropriate and it was very moving to see them. Sorry for the tininess of the photo. We didn't take any pictures of the chairs ourselves.
There are day trips to Auschwitz, which is not far from the city. We didn’t go. Cowardice?