Tag Archives: Podgorze ghetto

Podgórze Ghetto: Krakow – Off the beaten track

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There are three or four images of the Podgórze Ghetto in Krakow that crop up time and again, but what do these places look like today?

First, a short history lesson. Between March 1941 and March 1943 a small section of the Podgórze district of Krakow was walled off and served as a holding pen, or ghetto, for about 15,000 Jewish residents of Krakow. Podgórze is a suburb of Krakow lying on the south side of the Vistula River while the main city lies on the north side. Podgórze is not very big and only part of it was walled off. You can walk from one side of the ghetto area to the other in less than five minutes. A dozen small streets that had been home to around 3,000 people suddenly became home to 15,000 people. The swinging of cats was not a major pastime.

Area of the Krakow Ghetto

For a couple of years our German friends had a fine old time marching people in and out of the ghetto gates to shovel snow, clean cobblestones, and occasionally line up against walls. Finally in 1943 they decided to cart everyone off to the Płaszów labor camp just a couple of kilometers down the road. Thickset chaps with short necks, big dogs, and machine guns started kicking in doors at 4:30 in the morning and inviting people to step outside. By the end of the second day about 8,000 people had been marched off to Płaszów (where the fun was just beginning), 3,000 people were sitting in cattle cars wondering what was so interesting about this Auschwitz place they kept hearing about, and 2,000 people had been laboriously converted into bullet-ridden corpses and scattered about the streets of Podgórze.

According to the plan, such as it was, none of these things should have mattered much because anyone who was there and might have felt inclined to complain should have been dead within a few months. Amazingly the Germans was so sure of this they even took pictures of the process. There aren’t many of these pictures and just a few of the most evocative ones crop up again and again on websites and in books. These were the scenes I wanted to look at through modern eyes, as it were.

The newly constructed gate to the Krakow Ghetto on Limanowskiego Street (c. March 1941)

The walls and gates are variously reported as having been built by forced Jewish labor or Polish contractors, probably a mixture of both. My understanding is that the writing above the gate reads “Jewish residential area” in German but rendered in Yiddish script. Tram and road traffic continued to flow through this gate and out the other side of the ghetto throughout its existence. Presumably the tram didn’t stop.

Limanowskiego Street today (May, 2008)

The gates are long gone, demolished by the Germans soon after the liquidation of the ghetto. Today there’s a pedestrian crossing almost exactly where the gates once stood, but no sign of the gates themselves. I looked pretty hard, and I’m famous for my ability to stare at walls, curbs, and cornices without pity or embarrassment, but I saw no trace.

Three Ghetto inmates hurry down the road towards Płaszów (March 13th or 14th, 1943)

Looks to me like a fairly young guy hurrying along his elderly parents, various box-heads are marching up and down or pointing at things in the background. This exit to the ghetto was at the junction of Lwowska and Jozefinska Street. The three, presumably Jewish, people on the left have just been ejected from their homes and are making for the Płaszów labor camp a couple of kilometers down the road. It seems highly unlikely that Mom and Pop will survive there for more than a few weeks, assuming they aren’t shot on arrival. Junior will probably do okay for a while but will still end up as a pile of ash in Auschwitz. This happened right on this corner 65 years ago.

Lwowska Street today (May, 2008)

Again, there is not a trace of the gate or the wall here. There is a large fragment of the ghetto wall on Lwowska Street more or less right behind where I was standing to take this photo. The buildings themselves seem to be in rather worse repair than they were 65 years ago, apart from the odd bit of PVC double glazing.

Surviving fragment of the Krakow Ghetto wall

Abandoned possessions of ghetto residents (March 13th or 14th, 1943)

This photo was taken about 50 meters up the road from the shot above, presumably by the same person a few hours later. It is described by more informed scholars than I as showing luggage and random goods dropped by people who had been marched out of the ghetto on their way to Płaszów. You’ve got to wonder who the uniformed guy standing on the extreme left side of the picture is. The tram tracks in the foreground were part of a line that split off from Limanowskiego Street at this corner and proceeded down Lwowska Street. The line is no longer in use, but I suspect the tracks are still there just beneath the tarmac and you can clearly see a trace of them on the the modern road surface in the photo below.

Corner of Limanowskiego and Lwowska today (May, 2008)

It’s a very strange experience to stand on this corner knowing you are standing exactly where the unknown photographer of the scene above once stood.

The Cyganeria Cafe

On December 22nd or 23rd, 1942 (three months before the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto) members of the Jewish Fighting Organization and Polish communist partisans bombed the Cyganeria Cafe, a favored haunt of German military personnel in Krakow. The Cyganeria Cafe was well outside the ghetto on the other side of the city in Szpitalna Street, directly opposite the Juliusz Slowacki Theater. Eleven Germans were reportedly killed and thirteen wounded.

Location of the Cyganeria Cafe today

Astonishingly the Cyganeria Cafe is a Kefirek mini supermarket today. I’ve shopped in there dozens of times in complete ignorance of its infamous history. There is in fact a plaque on the wall, visible in the picture as a black rectangle to the left of the main shop entrance, but I had never noticed it. Despite returning to the location and hanging around two days in a row I wasn’t able to get a picture completely free of parked cars, vans, delivery trucks, or ridiculous SUV-type things.

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Read more about the Jewish experience in Second World War Krakow in Schindler’s List Death Camp: Krakow – Off the beaten track

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