Central Europe Discovery #2: The Historic Jewish Quarter of Kraków

Over the few days we have been in Kraków, Poland learning about the Jewish Quarter, the people, and the history during the Holocaust of the city. The first night we celebrated Shabbat at an Orthodox Synagogue that is over 500 years old. The rituals were interesting as everything was in Hebrew and the men and woman were separated. This was a fascinating experience for all of our participants as they got to see a synagogue with rich history, which still carried out strong values even through the the toughest times during the Holocaust. We then had a beautiful dinner all together down the street.

Our first day we visited various synagogues (from Reform to Orthodox). Dima began to share the history of the Jewish Quarter and so many stories that had impacted the community and its people over the years. Our Saturday morning service as a group was so joyful. We all got the opportunity to join in song and learn about the Torah portion of this week, which focused on having strong leadership to keep order in the community (we hit on this later in our experience in Poland). Our afternoon was spent shopping in the largest market in the city and began preparation for the emotions to come for visiting Auschwitz the next day.

As our toughest day has come to an end where we spent the day visiting Auschwitz A and Auschwitz-Birkenau. One a labor camp while the other an extermination camp. We arrived at Auschwitz A and went through the incredibly detailed museum Poland has made in the semi-reconstructed camp. We went into the different Blocks that the prisoners lived in and focused on different parts of the Holocaust. After a few hours of learning, listening, looking, and conversing about our experience we moved on to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dima took us through this camp with a history of stories that were told from the perspectives of the prisoners that had survived to tell their story. The emotions were contrasted differently than the museum, but were as strong as ever. At the end of our walking tour, half our group led a beautiful ceremony with prayers, quotes, and songs to bring us closer to our experience and commemorate those that were perished.

To end the day, our group reflected with discussion which engaged many of our participants to truly open up about their tough experiences.

Our last day touring in Kraków was spent in the center of the Kraków Ghetto understanding their daily lives during that time, visiting Oscar Schindler’s factory, and seeing the last small part of the Kraków Ghetto wall that is still standing.

We strongly suggest you look at our photos on our Facebook album as they describe only a portion of the experience we had in Kraków and the different camps. As you will see not many photos were taken within the camp out of respect for all.

Our trip continues for two more days at another camp, Myjdanek, and then l ending in Warsaw for the night on Tuesday. We have instilled the notion to our participants that they are educators for this cause as this experience they have had will live with them forever. It is exciting for them to continue their experience in the holy land of Israel to celebrate our freedom.

Here are some amazing quotes from our participants on their experience:

“The thing that hit me the most was all of the stories that we heard about the different people that came through Auschwitz. The stories about the different men, women, and children made me consider what being Jewish meant and what it meant to be free.” – Navit

“My experience at Auschwitz will undeniably shape who I become as a Jew, and it has reinforced the importance of recognition and remembrance of the Holocaust in my mind.” – Miles

“This was one of the most powerful days of my life [going to the concentration camps].” – Jocelyn

“Before going to the camps, I thought that I would later understand the number 6 million, but it is so hard to wrap my head around the number 6 million and that each number is a real person.” – Noa

“When I was walking around the camps, I noticed so many butterflies, which was so ironic as such beautiful things can be alive in a place of horror.” – Donya

“Finding my great grandparents’ names in the book of people who perished, was such a personal connection and made this even more real.” – Ellie

“After today’s visiting at the camps, I don’t have any words to describe this experience.” – Adam

“The Polish guards have made me feel safe, which as allowed me to come close to them.” – Graham

“Today visiting the camps was something that I have always wanted to do. Although it was very emotional it was great to experience that I will cherish forever.” – Andy

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