Saturday, June 28, 2008

Poland Journal - Day 4 - Krakow

My apologies for the long break in completing my Poland entries. I needed to be away from the material for a while as it was anger inducing. Thanks for your patience.

May 28, 2008
כ"ג אייר תשס"ח

We spend most of the day on the bus on the way to Krakow. There, we are to visit the old Jewish quarter and several old, restored synagogues. The Jewish community of Krakow today numbers some 200 souls. In the months before the Shoah, there were some 60,000 Jews in Krakow. There is nostalgia here for the Jews. It appears in the Hebrew and Yiddish signage all around the Kazmierz area – the historic Jewish section of town. In all honesty, it feels a bit like what the Jewish Quarter of the Poland exhibit at Epcot would feel like if it existed.

Prior to our arrival, we stop in Kielce. Kielce is famous for nothing Jewishly except for the fact that it is the one place where a pogrom took place AFTER the end of the Shoah and the end of World War II. That’s right – after virtually all of Polish Jewry was annihilated, while the world just started to grasp the enormity of the final solution, the residents of Kielce felt it necessary to murder forty or more Jews based on a classic anti-Semitic canard – the blood libel.

Before arriving in Krakow, we visit another Jewish cemetery desecrated by the Nazis and restored as a memorial monument. An old Polish woman, at least eighty years of age, wearing a crucifix, comes to meet us. The privilege of paying respects to desecrated Jews graves cost our group 60 zloty or about $30. The “fee” supposedly goes to maintain the site, but the way cash payment is made betrays any sense of “good” as it is palmed from our polish docent, “Tomasz” to the woman. Profiteering. I am nauseous.

The old city of Krakow is beautiful and for a short time, I can imagine myself returning to this quaint but cosmopolitan place, until we reach the craft market. On the one hand, the market looks like just about any other fold art festival: wood carvings, jewelry, etc. There is, however, one particular art form specific to this region: the Jew Doll. Many stalls sell them: wood carved Hasidim, they look like they could have walked here from Anatevka. Some smile and some frown. There are mostly male figurines but there are also a few females. Some play the violin while others hold pitchforks and sport pointed ears designed to look like the devil. They all, however, share one feature in common: long, very long, prominent Jewish noses. But if the noses and the pitchforks aren’t disturbing enough, they pale in comparison to the unique feature of the most common Jew Dolls throughout the market: the ones that clutch large gold coins close to their hearts. Nostalgia for the old days or blatant anti-Semitism? You will have to decide for yourselves. As for me, well, any thoughts I might have harbored about returning to visit beautiful Krakow vaporize the minute I lay my eyes on my first Jew Doll with the large nose viciously protecting his heart made of a gold coin.

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