Tuesday April 2, 2013
Today is our first full day in Krakow. We are up relatively early and are off to explore. Rich is going to give us a walking tour of the city. I feel the same sense of gloominess that lingers in New York City after September 11th in the air here in Krakow. I am finding it hard to walk the streets knowing that less than one hundred years ago the poles and Jews were being mentally and physically abused on the same streets I am walking.
We walked to the ghetto of Krakow where twenty thousand Jews were brought before being taken to Auschwitz. When we first arrived in the square known as the ghetto, it looked like a bus/metro stop. There was just one thing that made it look different from a typical stop. The square had chairs placed strategically throughout. Not knowing much about the area we didn’t think much of the chairs and waited patiently for Rich to buy our entrance tickets to Tadeusz Pankiewicz’s pharmacy.
This pharmacy was established in 1909 by Jozef Pankiewicz on Zgody Square. Shortly before WWII Jozef’s son, Tadeusz, took over the pharmacy. In 1941 the pharmacy became enclosed in what is known as the ghetto. Tadeusz and his coworkers decided to keep the pharmacy active by supplying medications and supports to the people trapped in the ghetto. Jozef and his coworkers risked their own lives to help the people of the ghetto. The pharmacy to the German soldiers was a place where the people were going for medication but to the Jews and Poles it served as a place to exchange information through illegal correspondence and a hiding place for families valuables. It is just so surreal to be standing in the exact building where these people were risking their lives every day to try and save another life. It is even more surreal to be standing here thinking about how badly the people trapped in the ghetto were suffering.
The pharmacy has been made into an interactive museum. This is by far my favorite museum we have visited since being in Europe. Everything about it was so real. When we first walked in we entered the dispensing room of the pharmacy. It was in this room that the counter we are staring at was where the people living in the ghetto would come request medications and discuss problems. Today the room starts off with the history of the pharmacy and information about the pharmacies owner and employees.
As we walked further into the building we entered the prescription room. This is where prescription medications were made. This room had multiple cabinets and drawers that when opened had stories to tell documenting the times. This is a very hands on room of the museum. If you were to just walk through you would think the room was just empty but this is not the case at all. Each cabinet tells a different individuals story or an example of how people were trying to cope with the hardships of the war.
The next room we entered into I found to be the hardest room to be in. It was known as the duty room. In here a film plays that is a documentation of tragic deportations. An elderly woman and man discuss their experiences in the ghetto. They speak so innocently it is just so hard to think that someone can be so evil that they find it necessary to torture so many innocent people. It is here in this room that Jozef’s desk is. Next to his desk is a small table which has a telephone on it. Next to the phone are instructions to pick up the phone and listen to eye witness accounts of what was taking place in the ghetto. I picked up the phone and pressed the number 4 like the instructions said. I was not prepared for what I was about to hear on the other end of the phone. It makes me sick to discuss. The man speaking talks about what the Germans did with infants. The voice on the phone begins saying that when infants arrived in the ghetto, they were taken from their mothers, placed on a sheet, stacked in a pile with any other infants that may have arrived that day and then a single bullet was shot down through the babies. It was at this point that I had to hang up the phone. I almost threw up. Chills ran up and down my body. I was in complete shock. I knew the Germans did heinous things to the Jews and Poles but I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. At this point I had nothing to say to anyone. I set the phone down and walked outside of the museum.
When we all came out of the museum nobody spoke. We all walked into the square starring at the ground. Rich broke the silence. All he said was that there wasn’t much to say and that’s because their wasn’t. I don’t think any one of us was prepared for what we saw and heard. After a few minutes Rich told us why the square was lined with chairs. They were a memorial for the lives that were taken in the ghetto. As if we weren’t already horrified enough but now we were realizing that we were standing in the exact square that was gated off and known as the ghetto where many people spent the final days of their lives.
Still in a state of shock and disbelief we walked in silence to Schindler’s Museum. Before leaving for this trip the girls and I watched the movie Schindler’s List. Oskar Schindler risked his life to save the life of 1200 Jews. He started off working for the Nazi party making money from the products of his factory. As the war got under way and Schindler learned of how the Jews and Poles were really being treated he gave up his fortune to save the lives of as many people as possible. When we got to the museum I was expecting to walk through the actual factory that Schindler ran. To my surprise only one room in the entire museum was actually about the factory. The rest of the museum was set up as a timeline of events of WWII. The museum was set up in the actual building where Schindler’s factory was. Although I was expecting the museum to be all about Schindler and what he did for the Jews, after walking through I realized that Schindler played such a small role in the war because he was only able to save 1200 Jews compared to the thousands that died. It is amazing that he was even able to save the number of people he did but I do understand why the museum has only one room dedicated to Schindler.
Leaving the museum we were all still in a very quiet mood but were hungry. Poland is where the bagel was invented so we went to a restaurant called Bagel Mamma. They are said to have the best bagels in town. They not only have every bagel sandwich imaginable but they also make burritos. I have been craving a burrito for weeks now and can’t seem to find them in Athens so I didn’t go for a fresh bagel but instead ordered a burrito. I don’t know what I was thinking because my burrito was not all I hoped it would be. The bagel sandwiches looked amazing. Ashley gave me a built of her sandwich and man was I missing out. The bagels were so fresh compared to the onion bagels I am used to getting at dunking donuts. I can’t wait to come back tomorrow for lunch and get a bagel!