History of Kazimierz
Kazimierz in Krakow, today associated mainly as a former Jewish quarter, was founded as an independent city by King Casimir the Great in 1335 in the area of several settlements, which dates back to the 11th century.
At the end of the 15th century, after the expulsion of the Jewish population from Krakow, a specific Jewish city was established in the area of Szeroka street, dynamically developing over the next few centuries. Kazimierz was experiencing the glory period in the 15th and 16th centuries.
From the mid-seventeenth century, there was a slow decline in the city. Finally, it was incorporated into Krakow at the beginning of the 19th century. Before World War II, the entire area of the former municipality of Kazimierz was inhabited by tens of thousands of Jewish population, thus creating a specific district with a unique atmosphere.
History of the Jews during World War II
All this, unfortunately, was irretrievably damaged by the Nazis. Only some of the monuments of the Kazimierz remained until today. During World War II, the Germans occupying Krakow relocated Jews to the ghetto in the Podgórze district on the other side of the Vistula.
Before the war, there were almost 60,000 Jews in Krakow, and they constituted nearly 1/3 of the city’s population, unfortunately, as we know, most of them were killed by the Nazis. That is why, after the war, Kazimierz was deserted, and nobody cared for lovely streets, institutions, or houses of prayer.
Only about 3,000 Krakow Jews survived the war. This statistic does not include Polonized Jews who blend in with the Christian population and people marrying Christians.
The history of Krakow’s Polish-Jewish fate is not easy to read. It is a painful story; nevertheless, it should be mentioned that these kinds of absolutely horrible events can happen. Jews influenced Krakow in many ways-they enriched cultures, art, and science.
Religious buildings ruined during the war were gradually renovated. There were attempts to revive the area around Szeroka Street by settling artists and people of culture. Many figures famous for Polish culture lived in the newly built house opposite the Old Synagogue.
Today, again, Kazimierz, as it was centuries ago, is a meeting place for various cultures and nationalities. Cracovians decided to save this part of the history of their city, as well as national and European heritage. Kraków’s Kazimierz, next to the Old Town and Wawel, is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Every year, for over a quarter of a century, in Kazimierz The Jewish Culture Festival takes place at Szeroka Street. Schindler’s List was filmed in Kazimierz – a fantastic film by Steven Spielberg based on facts and awarded with Oscars. The film tells a story of the entrepreneur Oskar Schindler, who saved 1,100 Jews from the concentration camp during World War II.
In the evening, Kraków’s Kazimierz is besieged by locals and tourists, and the lively district of Krakow pulsates with vibrant energy. The gardens of restaurants, cafes, and pubs are filled to the brim.
It is worth strolling through the charming streets of Kazimierz for a while, to feel the unique atmosphere of the pre-war Jewish quarter.
5 must-visit attractions
- Plac Nowy
Kazimierz’s market square, called Jewish Square. It is a particular point in the district because of the round building. Every day, the pavilion serves traders and is full of small gastronomic facilities selling mainly famous casseroles. The roof of the “round log” periodically turns into a stage where various concerts take place. The center of Kazimierz’s nightlife, surrounded by clubs, restaurants, and cafes with unique character.
Zetpe0202 Wikimedia Commons
- The Old synagogue
The synagogue is probably the oldest one in Poland, and its origins date back to 1407. Built by Czech Jews, it is a typical, orthodox two-nave building that was initially intended only for men. The Old Synagogue was rebuilt and renovated many times because, until 1939, it was the most important religious and cultural center of the Krakow Jewish community. Currently, the Old Synagogue houses a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow.
Jakub Halun Wikimedia Commons
- Galicia museum
The museum opened in 2004 in the building of the pre-war mill is considered a special place in the Kazimierz district of Krakow. It shows the heritage of over 800 years of Jewish past in former Galicia. The exhibitions there are nearly 920 square meters of volumes and photographic presentations.
Zetpe0202 Wikimedia Commons
- Szeroka street
In the Middle Ages street originally was the center of the village Bawół, annexed to Kazimierz shortly after the location of the city, in 1340. Szeroka street was the main point of the Jewish town. It fulfilled the function of a market around which the life of the inhabitants focused.
To this day, many monuments of Jewish culture have survived. There are synagogues Remuh, Stara, and Popper. There are restored tenement houses around Szeroka Street, among them a Renaissance Landau tenement house with a brick and stone facade.
- Ghetto heroes square
Plac Bohaterów Getta is one of the essential places in Krakow’s Podgórze. It was established around 1838 and was initially called the Small Market Square because it served as the second market.
During World War II, it was the center of the Jewish ghetto. In 2005 square was modernized and became one of the most beautiful squares in Krakow and a specific place commemorating the tragic history of the Jewish people.
A quite unusual, but very eloquent monument was erected on the renovated square. Well, there are 33 monument-chairs made of cast iron and bronze and 37 ordinary chairs on which anyone can sit. They are to symbolize the tragedy of the former residents of the square, people who left empty chairs.