Visiting Kazimierz Galicia Museum – Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja Posted by Kasia on Feb 8, 2012 in Culture, Places to visit
Formerly Kraków’s Jewish quarter, Kazimierz’s soul was ripped out of it during WWII, when it was first used as a ghetto, then was steadily emptied as its inhabitants were sent off to the gas chambers of nearby Auschwitz and Birkenau. But recently, the area has enjoyed a revival; a visit here is a glimpse into a tragic past, but also a vibrant, promising future.
Towards the end of the 18th century, Poland was divided up between Russia, Austria and Prussia. The part annexed by Austria was known as Galicia and it included Kraków. The Kazimierz Galicia Museum (www.galiciajewishmuseum.org), which takes its name from that region, was opened officially on June 27, 2004 and since then, has attracted great international attention. Few years ago Dick Cheney held a reception at the museum for U.S. Holocaust survivors. Elie Wiesel, a veteran campaigner on Holocaust issues, also attended.
The museum’s initial purpose was to exhibit photographs taken by the late Chris Schwarz over a ten-year period. At the time he was a professional and award-winning photographer, then he was the founder, owner and director of the museum. Having discovered a suitable building, it seemed natural to add a café and a bookshop. Then, Chris also decided to put on cultural events, a practice that has continued under the Museum’s new directorship since his death on July 29, 2007 of cancer: every month, there are concerts, lectures, dance workshops and lessons in Hebrew and Yiddish. The museum is at ul. Dajwór 18, and you can get there by walking towards the Old Synagogue on ul. Szeroka, then turning left down a short road and then turning right into ul. Dajwór. The museum is about 80 metres down the street on the left.
The main exhibit is the Traces of Memory permanent exhibition, which shows some of the photographs Chris took. It is divided into five sections: the ruins, the original culture, the horror of destruction, efforts to preserve traces of memory and the people involved. Some of the images are positive. One shows a small clump of trees in the middle of an area of cultivated land. The local people know that beneath the trees lies a Jewish cemetery; they respect the sanctity of the area. Another picture provokes both sadness and anger: it shows Jewish tombstones used to pave the entrance to a private dwelling.
For Chris the museum’s activities gave rise to a troubling, even tormenting, question: How can there be Jewish culture without Jews? If young Poles play Jewish music or learn Hebrew or Yiddish from a Polish teacher, is that Jewish culture? The harsh truth is that such things can never be more than a pale shadow of what existed before, but the alternative is to let the elements of culture preserved at the museum die and become forgotten in Kazimierz. The Jewish community is ageing and within ten to fifteen years there may be no genuine Jewish presence in Kraków. It can be argued that a pale shadow is better than total erasure. After all, as Henryk Halkowski – a surviving Kraków Jew – said, “(The) Jews are gone. One can only try to preserve, maintain and fix the memory of them – not only of their struggle and death (as in Warsaw and Auschwitz), but of their life, of the values that guided their yearnings, of the international life and their unique culture. (Kraków) was one of the places where that life was most rich, most beautiful, most varied, and the most evidence of it has survived here.”
Really great place to visit if you are interested in Jewish history. Anyone has been there recently?
Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)
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