Kraków, Poland: The Podgórze District

[You can read my Kraków Guide here.]

One of the most historically significant districts in not just Kraków, but in all of Poland, Podgórze was at the center of the Jewish genocide by the Nazis during WWII.

View from the Church of St. Joseph (Kościół św. Józefa)

A short walk from Kazimierz over the Bernatek Footbridge, Podgórze is known for its “natural beauty, tragic history, and unusual attractions”. While the first settlement was founded over ten thousand years ago, this area was destroyed by the Swedish in the 1600s, then designated a free city in 1784 by the Austrians, before being incorporated officially into Kraków in 1915. Podgórze was known for its quarry and construction operations before being completely changed by the Nazi occupation during WWII.

Bernatek Footbridge

At the time of the German invasion, 60,000-80,000 Polish Jews lived in Kraków, mostly in the Kazimierz District. In 1939, the Nazis required all Jews to report for forced labor, then wear mandatory armbands. Hans Frank stated that Kraków should be the “racially cleanest” city in General Government and as a result, the deportation of Jews began in 1940.

Map of the Podgórze Jewish Ghetto in Kraków.

Of the 68,000 Polish Jews living in Kraków before the invasion, only 15,000 were allowed to remain as workers. They, and their families, were resettled in the Podgórze district of Kraków (known as the Kraków Ghetto) in 1941:

“Previously inhabited by a little over 3,000, the Krakow Ghetto was spread over a few dozen streets in and around Zgody Square (since renamed Bohaterow Getta Square), containing some 320 tenement buildings. A 2-3 metre high wall was raised along the perimeter of the Krakow Ghetto, crowned by a line of arcs reminiscent of Jewish tombstones, tragically prophetic – portions of which remain today…

Windows facing onto the outside world were bricked up and the gates were strictly policed. Krakow Ghetto became desperately overcrowded: each new resident was allocated a mere 2m2 of living space. Life in the Krakow Ghetto was a constant struggle: food was scarce and hunger became the gravest affliction; sanitation was sorely inadequate and the German command grew increasingly brutal and inhumane.”

There were many instances of resistance within the Ghetto walls including the Akiva Youth Movement, Jewish Fighting Organization, and the Polish underground (Armia Krajowa). In 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Kraków Ghetto. Many were sent to the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp (also located in Podgórze), Bełżec death camp, and Auschwitz. Those unfit for work (2,000 people) were shot in the streets of Kraków.

Less than 5,000 of the once large Jewish population (one quarter of the entire inhabitants of Kraków before the Nazi occupation) survived the war.

I definitely recommend a trip into Podgórze. The district includes a number of historical sites including the last remaining remnants of the Ghetto Wall, as well as memorials built to commemorate the horrific events that took place here.

A friendly reminder that while I am naming these places as “sites”, I hope to give the utmost respect to the people that were tortured and killed here. These places carry a great deal of weight and those that visit should treat them as such.

You can read more about my stance on here.

The Sites:

Church of St. Joseph (Kościół św. Józefa):

Church of St. Joseph (Kościół św. Józefa)  was built in the early 1900s.

Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta):

Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta) includes 33 memorial chairs to commemorate the atrocities that occurred in this once bustling center. The original entrance of the Kraków Ghetto is at the entrance to the Square.

Fragment of Ghetto Wall:

The last remaining portion of the Kraków Ghetto wall. This twelve meter long fragment of the original ghetto barrier displays a plaque placed there in 1983 which says: “Here they lived, suffered, and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps.”

Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory: Museum of Wartime Kraków:

Oskar Schindler was a German businessman and Nazi who saved 1,200 Jews during WWII. Schindler owned a number of factories in occupied-Poland and employed Jews in Podgórze originally because their labor was cheaper than Poles, but then he continued to employ and protect his Jewish workers throughout the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto.
“Schindler’s Jews” as they became known, included men, women, and children of all ages. Schindler was able to protect them from deportation through his connections within the Nazi party, the vital role his factories played in the war effort, and by constantly making exemptions for the skills of his workers.
Towards the end of the war, Schindler’s bribes and black-market dealings became more and more suspicious, but he was able to protect his workers from deportation. Even when they were accidentally sent to the Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz concentration camps, he was able to manage their safe return to the factory. While Schindler isn’t the only German who helped protect Jews during WWII, he is arguably one of the most famous, due in large part to the 1993 movie Schindler’s List.
Schindler’s Podgórze factory was converted to one of the most amazing and interactive museums I’ve visited in Europe. I highly recommend making a trip if you can. I took a ton of pictures, but didn’t want to post them all here; I think it takes away from the overall experience and sheer “whoa!” factor of the museum.

Other Sites I wish I Visited but Ran Out of Time:

As always, I wish I had more time to see allthethings. Unfortunately, I missed visiting Krakus Mound. Liban Quarry, and the Płaszów Concentration Camp while in Kraków, but I wanted to include them here.

Krakus Mound:

Krakus Mound is the oldest structure and highest point in all of Kraków. Once used as a site for pagan rituals, now visitors come to see beautiful panoramic views of the city.
Photo via In Your Pocket.

Liban Quarry (Kamieniolom Liban):

A forgotten place in a city of historic sites, Liban Quarry is currently abandoned, although this was a place of significance for Kraków. Established by two Jewish families in 1873, the quarry was successful prior to German occupation. During WWII, the Nazis used the quarry as a forced labor camp for Polish prisoners.
Photo via In Your Pocket.
The site was also used by Steven Spielberg to film Schindler’s List in 1993.
Photo via Untapped Cities.

Płaszów Concentration Camp:

A short walk from Krakus Mound is the site of the former Konzentrationslager Plaszow bei Krakau, the Nazi concentration camp of Płaszów, built on two (destroyed) Jewish cemeteries. Largely unchanged from German occupation, the site looks more like a park than a place where thousands of people were murdered. Unlike Schindler’s Factory or Auschwitz, there are no tours, no multimedia displays, or instructions on how to visit this space. This camp was almost thoroughly dismantled by the Germans before they retreated from Poland. For those who have seen Schindler’s List, this is the camp depicted in the movie (although as noted, not filmed here, out of respect of the victims of German genocide).
A comprehensive guide to visiting the site can be found here.
Photo via In Your Pocket.

Currently:
Watching: Westworld Season 2 (HBO)
Listening: The Floodlines Podcast (The Atlantic)

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