Poland – Strong Jewish History and Medieval Art
No trip to Kraków would be complete without a walk around the Jewish Quarters where acclaimed director Steven Spielberg filmed multiple Academy Award-winning motion picture Schindlers List. Kazimierz is the area where most of the movie was filmed. Not much movie paraphernalia remains, which means the small town has retained the best of its old charm. Touring around will bring you across an outdoor flea market selling antiques from the war and Polish Jewish households and a few synagogues. The Remuh Synagogue is one of the smallest and oldest around and houses a cemetery and memorial hall remembering the victims of the Holocaust.
Most of Kraków’s Jewish Quarters remain in tact due to it being the place of governance for the Nazis in Poland, although its people were mainly wiped out in the Nazis’ concentration camps. The same can’t be said for Warsaw, however. Our second city of visit in Poland, Warsaw was mainly torn by destruction during WWII. After the war, little effort was made by the ruling communist party to rebuild iconic Jewish monuments but since the end of communist rule, Warsaw is slowly reintroducing Jewish monuments back into the capital.
Warsaw contains the second largest Jewish community outside of New York, although many are only Jewish by ethnicity or by birth and few continue to practice Judaism as a faith, for fear of a repeat of the Holocaust again. For an in depth study of the history of Jews in Poland, a visit to the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews is a must.
The newly opened museum stands in what was once the heart of Jewish Warsaw, which was turned into a ghetto during WWII. The Core Exhibition journeys visitors through 1,000 years of Polish Jewish history (from Middle Ages to the present).
Apart from the museum, Warsaw offers an eclectic mix of charming old Polish and communist-era attractions within the same neighbourhood. Major sights are concentrated around the Old Town, such as the Royal Castle of Warsaw, St Anne’s Church and Nowy Świat Street, Warsaw’s high-end shopping district that is located just next to the more unsightly communist headquarters.
There are also quite a few museums to check out in this area, including the Copernicus Science Centre and Frederick Chopin Museum. Check out the Palace of Culture and Science, which was built according to Soviet specifications but entirely funded by the local government. The modern-style building sticks out as a sore thumb among the rest of the baroque-styled buildings in the vicinity.