Kraków Ghetto

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Deportation of Jews from the Kraków Ghetto, March 1943
Deportation of Jews from the Kraków Ghetto, March 1943

The Jewish ghetto in Kraków (Cracow) was one of the five main ghettos created by the Nazis in the General Government, during their occupation of Poland during World War II. It was a staging point to begin dividing "able workers" from those who would later be deemed worthy of death. Before the war, Kraków was an influential cultural center for the 60,000-80,000 Jews that resided there.


[edit] History

Persecution of the Jewish population of Kraków began soon after the Nazis occupied the city in September 1, 1939 during the Invasion of Poland. Jews were obliged to take part in forced labor (September 1939). In November 1939, all Jews 12 years or older were required to wear identifying armbands. Throughout Kraków, synagogues were ordered closed and all their relics and valuables turned over to the Nazi authorities.

By May 1940, the German occupation authority announced that Kraków should become the "cleanest" city in the General Government (occupied, but unannexed portions of Poland) and ordered a massive deportation of Jews from the city. Of the more than 68,000 Jews in Kraków when the Germans invaded, only 15,000 workers and their families were permitted to remain in the city. All other Jews were ordered out of the city, to be resettled in surrounding areas.

The Kraków ghetto was formally established on March 3, 1941. Because the ghetto was set up in the Podgórze district, not in the Jewish district of Kazimierz, displaced Polish families from the area took up residence in the former Jewish dwellings away from the ghetto. Before the creation of the ghetto, 3,000 people lived in the Podgórze district. This expanded initially to 15,000 Jews, all crammed into 30 streets, 320 residential buildings, and 3,167 rooms. As a result, one apartment was allocated to every four families, and many less fortunate lived on the street.

The ghetto was surrounded by walls that kept it isolated from the surrounding city. All windows and doors that gave onto the "Aryan" side were ordered bricked up, although four guarded entrances allowed traffic to pass through. In a grim foreshadowing of the near future, these walls contained panels in the shape of tombstones. Small sections of the wall remain today.

Young leftists of the Akiva youth movement, who had undertaken the publication of an underground newsletter, HeHaluc HaLohem ("The Fighting Pioneer"), joined forces with other Zionists to form a local branch of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ŻOB, Polish: Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa), and organize resistance in the ghetto, supported by the Polish underground Armia Krajowa. The group carried out a variety of resistance activities including the bombing of the Cyganeria cafe, a gathering place of Nazi officers. Unlike in Warsaw, their efforts did not lead to a general uprising before the ghetto was liquidated.

Arched entrance to Kraków Ghetto, about 1941.
Arched entrance to Kraków Ghetto, about 1941.
Bundles abandoned by Jewish deportees from the Kraków Ghetto, March 1943
Bundles abandoned by Jewish deportees from the Kraków Ghetto, March 1943

From May 30, 1942 onward, the Nazis implemented systematic deportations from the ghetto to surrounding concentration camps. Thousands of Jews were transported over the succeeding months.

On March 13-March 14, 1943 the Nazis carried out the final 'liquidation' of the ghetto under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Amon Goth. Eight thousand Jews deemed able to work were transported to the Plaszow labor camp. Those deemed unfit for work -- some 2,000 Jews -- were killed in the streets of the ghetto on those days. Any remaining were sent to die in Auschwitz.

[edit] Notable persons

Movie director Roman Polanski, a survivor of the ghetto, recalls his experience there as a young child in his memoir, Roman. As Polanski described it, the early months resembled normalcy; although the peacefulness was sometimes punctuated by fear. Town residents dined out, listened to town bands, and children, such as Polanski, socialized in the snow.

Roma Ligocka, Polish artist, author, and first cousin to Roman Polanski who, as a small girl, was rescued and survived the ghetto. Many years later, after seeing herself portrayed in the movie Schindler's List, Ligocka wrote a novel, The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir, based on her experiences.

Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish pharmacist who owned the Eagle Pharmacy in Krakow. When it was enclosed within the ghetto, he was permitted by the German authorities to continue the business. In recognition of his heroic deeds in rescuing Jews from the Kraków Ghetto he was awarded recognition as a Righteous Among the Nations. He published a book about his time in the ghetto, The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy ISBN 0896041158.

German war profiteer Oskar Schindler came to Kraków because of the labor available from the ghetto. He selected employees to work in his enamelware plant, and came to view them sympathetically. In 1942, Schindler watched ghetto inhabitants brutally rounded up for transportation to Płaszów, and subsequently worked furiously to save Jews interned there, events portrayed in the film Schindler's List. In an especially dramatic event, 300 of Schindler's workers were deported to the Auschwitz death camp despite his efforts, and he personally intervened to save them.

Mordechai Gebirtig was a one of the most influential and popular writers of Yiddish songs and poems. He died here in 1942. Miriam Akavia survived the ghetto and concentration camps. She is now today as an Israeli writer.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Graf, Malvina (1989). The Kraków Ghetto and the Plaszów Camp Remembered. Tallahassee: The Florida State University Press. ISBN 0813009057
  • Polanski, Roman. (1984). Roman. New York: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0688026214
  • Katz, Alfred. (1970). Poland's Ghettos at War. New York: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0829001956
  • Weiner, Rebecca. Virtual Jewish History Tour

[edit] External links

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