Living with the past

Krakow, Poland Today we saw some of the most enduring parts of Krakow’s Jewish quarter, including its oldest cemetery and synagogue. 

In 1939, there were about 70,000 Jews in Krakow. Today there are approximately 200.

The story of what happened to this community, once a vibrant and important part of the city, is a tale often told.

We toured the Oscar Schindler factory, whose amazing story was so well-captured in “Schindler’s List.” This building was completely gutted right after the war. It now houses an elaborate multi-media exhibit over multiple floors and rooms that seemingly trace every moment of Krakow’s history under the Nazis — from what life was like before 1939 and all the way through to liberation by the Soviets. The factory once made ordinary enameled pots and pans and there are a few rooms that recreate that use of the building. But mostly it profiles the way thousands of lives were destroyed. It seemed that no atrocity was spared.

We left with some disturbing thoughts. The story of the Holocaust is almost too familiar. But to revisit it in this place is particularly chilling. Especially when, having asked people living in the neighborhood exactly where Schindler’s Factory is, we received several blank stares, or some tentative waves in its general direction. Its significance aside, it is a major tourist attraction. 

And then there’s the question of revisiting this story, at this time. Just across the border, unfathomable horrors are happening every day, and there is no reason to think they may not come closer.

There is an understandable human urge to watch out for ourselves and be grateful if we’re not the ones experiencing pain and suffering. 

But if you have proof that the impossible is possible, there is an eerie disconnect with the shops and cafés full of people enjoying the calm of normal life. I write this just having had a pedicure in a chic salon in our neighborhood. 

It’s a complicated juggling act – living with the past and managing the present.

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