Krakow Ghetto today
HISTORY OF THE KRAKOW GHETTO. KRAKOW GHETTO DURING THE HOLOCAUST
By September 6, 1939, when the German army occupied Krakow on the sixth day of the War, about 65,000 Jews lived within the city and the suburbs, including those who had previously emigrated from Nazi Germany. Soon after the invasion, the occupation authorities prohibited Krakow Jews from holding meetings, using public transport, and visiting public places. Starting from December 1, 1939, all Polish Jews over the age of twelve had to wear a distinctive badge known as the Star of David. In 1940, more than 40,000 Jews were resettled in nearby villages outside Krakow, in the Lublin district, and also in labor camps. March 20, 1941, was determined as the deadline for the creation of a Jewish ghetto in Krakow, an area of about 20 hectares. Podgorze district, to the south of the historic Jewish area of Krakow, Kazimierz, was chosen as the object of resettlement.
Since the special resettlement commission identified 2 square meters of living space for each inhabitant of the Krakow ghetto, about 18,000 people, several families in an apartment, now lived in Podgorze. Initially, the area was surrounded with barbed wire under security, and in April 1941, a three-meter-high wall was erected around the perimeter, the upper part of which replicated the shape of the Jewish gravestones. The windows facing the non-Jewish rest of the city were walled up. It was possible to leave the ghetto walls only with a special work permit, which gave the right to work on Aryan enterprises outside the Krakow ghetto. Food and medicine supplies were at a minimum level of accessibility. The German administration approved the creation of a puppet management body called Judenrat (Krakow ghetto Jewish Council).
The first deportation of about 1,000 residents of the Krakow ghetto area of the old age took place in December 1941 and the deported Jews were simply released from the carriages near the city of Kielce. The second action was operated in February 1942, when 140 Jewish intellectuals were arrested, and then taken to Auschwitz and murdered. On the night of March 14, 1942, another 1,500 inhabitants were taken out to the Lublin district and released there. The most massive action took place on 1, 3-4, 6, and 8 June 1942, when about 7,000 Jews who did not receive new German work permits were herded on the territory of the Optima factory and within the Plac Zgody square. At the start, they were taken to the Plaszow railway station, and then, in cattle cars, they were taken to the Belzec death camp, where they were killed shortly after their arrival. This mass action is known as the Krakow ghetto massacre. On June 20, 1942, due to the decrease in the number of residents, the Krakow ghetto area was almost halved.
After a short standstill, the next mass deportation of Jews from the Krakow ghetto area was held on October 27-28, 1942, when 4,500 people were sent the same way to Belzec, and 600 residents, mostly children, the sick, and the old were killed on the street of the ghetto or in the Plaszow Concentration camp. A few days later the Krakow ghetto area was again reduced. On December 6, 1942, the Krakow ghetto was divided into two parts: Ghetto A and Ghetto B, segregating who was fit for work from all the rest. The Krakow ghetto liquidation was performed on March 13-14, 1943. During the most bloody action within the years of occupation, also known as the Krakow ghetto massacre, according to various sources, from 1000 to 2000 people were killed right on the streets. 6,000 fit-to-work were relocated to the Plaszow labor camp in the southern part of Krakow. 3000 old men, women, children, and the sick were loaded into cattle wagons and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where only one among five was temporarily selected for work, the rest were sent to gas chambers shortly after. In September 1943, the last remains of the barbed wire were removed from the streets, symbolizing the complete liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. At the same time, the poor Poles eventually occupied part of the dwellings in Podgorze, and most of the Krakow ghetto has survived to the present day.
KRAKOW GHETTO TODAY. GHETTO LOCATION
The Krakow ghetto today, in contrast to the larger and more well-known and infamous Warsaw ghetto, has survived to these days with almost the same appearance it met at the end of the war. Of the 320 houses that were inside the perimeter of the Krakow ghetto location in the spring of 1941, several dozen contained not only residents but also various kinds of organizations and institutions. Only a few of them at the intersection of Jozefinska and Na Zjezdzie streets have not survived until now: the Prison, the Order Police Building, and the orphanage house. Naturally, many of the buildings in the Podgozge Jewish area of Krakow have been renovated within seventy years, but altogether, the district has retained its gloomy appearance. Most of the buildings look exactly the same as they were in 1941-1943, which makes the Krakow ghetto district a unique place for historical walks and among the most preserved Krakow World War 2 sites. The excitement is supported by various guides of the Krakow ghetto then and now, but I suggest you take a walk on your own and see all the key places of the Krakow ghetto today within 2-3 hours.
I’ve prepared a detailed Krakow ghetto map with all the main sites, that become infamous during the Krakow Holocaust period.
- Ghetto main gate
- Ghetto gate № 2
- Ghetto gate № 3
- Ghetto gate № 4
- Plac Zgody (Ghetto Heroes Square)
- Krakow ghetto ”Pharmacy under the Eagle” (Apteka pod Orlem)
- Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) safe house
- Judenrat first office
- Order police office and a prison
- Ghetto Prison
- Industrial school for the Jewish orphans
- Hospital for the chronically sick
- Infectious Deceases Hospital
- Jewish Mutual Aid Society (Self-Help Organization)
- German Labor office (Arbeitsamt)
- The main hospital of the ghetto
- Julius Madritsch’s factory
- Optima factory
- Zucker synagogue
- Remained fragments of the ghetto wall (Limanowskiego 62)
- Remained fragments of the ghetto wall (Lwowska 25-29)
- ”Variete” restaurant
- Jewish orphanage
- Judenrat second office
- Ghetto gate after 20 June 1942
- Jozef Pilsudski bridge
KRAKOW GHETTO MAIN GATE
The main of the four gates to the Krakow ghetto area was located at the intersection of Rynek Podgorski Square and Boleslawa Limanowskiego Street. A tram line number 3 passed through them, and also trucks with goods, provisions, uniforms for German security guards, and Jews who were taken to work outside the ghetto, used to enter and leave the area by means of this gate. In addition, people with the appropriate pass could use the pedestrian entrance. A Star of David and a Yiddish inscription “Residential quarter for Jews” were painted on the wall of the Main Gate of the Krakow ghetto.
GHETTO GATE №2
This Nazi Krakow gate was located at the descent of the Boleslawa Limanowskiego and Lwowska streets and had only a pedestrian passage, and traffic or military formations were prohibited here. Gate № 2 was used for the deportation of residents to the Plaszow labor camp or other camps by means of the Plaszow railway station.
GHETTO GATE № 3
Was located at the convergence of the Jozefinska and Lwowska streets. Tram line number 6 passed through them, and it was forbidden to make stops inside the Krakow ghetto walls. Most of all, this route was used by Polish workers, who used to make their way between the Podgozge district in the north and the factories in the south. Occasionally they threw food and belongings for Jews in the ghetto from a passing tram.
GHETTO GATE № 4
The last of the four ghetto gates in Krakow (a period from March 1941 until June 1942) was located in the northern part of Plac Zgody Square, at the intersection with Kacik Street. Jews who were lucky to be employed in enterprises outside the ghetto, for example, at the Oscar Schindler’s DEF factory, generally used to leave the walls of the quarter by means of this gate, on a daily walk to the place of work. It was through this gate that the workers most often carried provisions into the ghetto walls, which they managed to obtain during the working day.
PLAC ZGODY (GHETTO HEROES SQUARE)
This area was ”created” in the Podgozge region as early as 1836. The largest open space within the walls of the Krakow ghetto was a traditional meeting place for its inhabitants. They used to manage their way out of the overcrowded apartments to the Krakow Jewish ghetto square in order to exchange news, and products, or just to chat with each other. The northern part of the square once placed one of the four gates to the ghetto, through which tram line 6 passed, as well as workers employed in factories outside the district walls. Plac Zgody was used by the Germans during mass deportations and a Krakow ghetto massacre as a gathering place for Jews to be sent to Belzec, Auschwitz, and Plaszow. Jews were executed within the square, and old people, children, women, and the weak were shot in the surrounding streets.
During the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto in March 1943, clothes and personal belongings of the deportees, as well as furniture from nearby houses, were dumped on the square into heaps. In 1948, the square was renamed “Ghetto Heroes Square”, but their memory was blurred by the placement of a public toilet and a bus stop. Only in 2005, the area was historically renovated. Among other things, a bus station in the northern part of the square was reconstructed and today it contains the scheme of the former Krakow ghetto. 70 metal chairs (33 of 1.4 meters high 37 of 1.2 meters high), known as ”Krakow chairs” were installed within the open space as the Krakow ghetto memorial, symbolizing the horrors of the ghetto, deportation, massacre, and liquidation.
PHARMACY UNDER THE EAGLE (APTEKA POD ORLEM)
This Krakow ghetto pharmacy, located in the southwestern part of Plac Zgody Square, was the only institution of its kind within the walls of the Krakow ghetto. The pharmacy was owned by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish pharmacist and the only non-Jewish person who was allowed by the German administration to live and work within the Podgozge ghetto in Krakow. Pankiewicz supplied the necessary medicines to the Krakow ghetto, and also provided Jews with provisions, temporary shelter, and even forged documents, saving human lives. Only four decades later, in 1983, Pankiewicz was officially honored as the Righteous Among the Nations.
The Pharmacy under the Eagle was also a meeting place for Jewish intellectuals and former cultural figures and a place to share the latest ghetto news. In 1951, the pharmacy was nationalized, but Pankiewicz retained control until 1955. The pharmacy was closed in 1967, and the bar was located here until 1981. Two years later, a small historical exhibition opened in the building, and in 2003, thanks to the donation of the director Roman Polanski, once a prisoner of the Krakow ghetto himself, the museum was expanded. Today, the building of the former ”Apteka pod Orlem” houses the historical exposition of the Krakow Historical Museum, which consists of five rooms dedicated to life and death within the Krakow ghetto.
JEWISH FIGHTING ORGANIZATION (ZOB) SAFE HOUSE
By the end of 1940, before the establishment of the ghetto area in Podgozge, after a year of occupation, the Jews began to organize the Resistance Movement to stand against the Germans. It is known as ”Zydowskiej Organizacji Bojowej” or abbreviated as ZOB and was conclusively organized in September 1942, after the unification of two different resistance groups. Initially, its members did not take active steps, but at the end of 1942, they began to carry out sabotage actions against the invaders, acts of wrecking, and even attacks on the Germans and collaborators. On December 23, 1942, members of the ZOB resistance even attacked the ”Café Cyganeria”, where German officers liked to assemble and several Germans died. Although members of the resistance gathered in different places, the headquarters of their organization is considered to be an apartment at Plac Zgody 6, right on the main square of the Krakow ghetto.
KRAKOW’S JUDENRAT’S FIRST OFFICE
The office of the so-called Jewish administration or the Judenrat was located at the intersection of Rynek Podgorski Square and Boleslawa Limanowskiego Street for three years, from 1939 to 1942, and adjoined Main Gate No. 1. This puppet body, under the careful control of the German administration, consisted of 24 members under the conditional guidance of Artur Rosenzweig. Dr. Alexander Biberstein was elected as the first nominal leader of the Krakow Judenrat. He was the head of Kraków’s Judenrat until being arrested and sent to the Belzec death camp on June 1, 1942, for ”non-performance” of the deportation plan. The Judenrat was supposed to ensure the maintenance of life within the ghetto walls, control over the minimum sanitary conditions, and the distribution of food among the inhabitants. In fact, its members had to collect information about residents for the Germans and prepared lists for deportation. After the arrest of Rosenzweig, Krakow ghetto Judenrat was dissolved in its original form, and the new puppet ”government” moved to Wegierska street 16. The former building was used as a warehouse for things stolen from the deported Jews.
ORDER POLICE OFFICE AND A PRISON
One of the two important buildings on the territory of the Krakow ghetto has not been preserved until today. Before the construction of Na Ziezdzie Street, which once connected Plac Zgody Square and two streets in the South after the war, the former police building was located at Jozefinska street 17. Ordnungsdienst (OD) police force consisted of Jews, led by Simcha Spira, unfamous for his close cooperation with the Germans. Later, he and his family will be executed in the Plaszow concentration camp in 1944, and during the time of the Krakow ghetto, the policemen maintained order in the district and played their cruel role in the actions of deportation of Jews and the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto in March 1943. There was also a prison in the same building on Jozefinska Street 17, where Jewish prisoners were kept, before being transferred to Montelupiсh prison in the center of Krakow, before being deported to Auschwitz, or just before being shot.
INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL FOR THE JEWISH ORPHANS
This school was founded before the war in the Kazimierz district, where most of the Krakow Jews lived in pre-war times. After the creation of the Krakow ghetto area and the beginning of the redistribution of Jews within the city, a school was moved to Jozefinska 25, near the ”Apteka pod Orlem” pharmacy. Created under the patronage of the Chamber of Commerce, the Lyceum taught Jewish orphans who were children of deceased artisans and prof. workers. Like the order police office, the building has not survived to this day, after the construction of the Na Ziezdzie street, and only nominally is a part of the Krakow ghetto today.
HOSPITAL FOR THE CHRONICALLY SICK
This medical institution was established in the Kazimierz district in mid-1940, already during the occupation, but before the establishment of the Krakow ghetto. In 1941 it was moved to Boleslawa Limanowskiego 15. The hospital was called the ”Senior House” since many of its patients were already over 70 years old. Also here patients with chronic diseases were treated, and there were disabled and cripples at the outpatient clinic. In November 1942, the Germans broke into the building and killed all the patients of the hospital.
INFECTIOUS DECEASES HOSPITAL
Before the break of the Second World War, this infectious hospital was located at 30 Rekawka Street, built in the 1930s on the initiative of the famous doctor Aleksander Biberstein, whose brother Marek would later become the first head of Judenrat in the Krakow ghetto (killed in Plazow in 1944). Since the Germans were afraid to get infected themselves, they avoided hospital checks. For this reason, it has become one of the few relatively safe places within the ghetto walls. Medics sheltered the sick and infirm, and even ZOB members at one time even kept weapons and contraband goods in the building. During the mass deportations in June 1942, about 300 people were hiding in hospitals. After June 20, when the ghetto territory was reduced to almost half, the hospital was now a part of the now-dismantled southern part and it was moved to Plac Zgody 3. At that new address, the infectious diseases hospital existed until the Krakow ghetto liquidation in March 1943.
JEWISH MUTUAL AID SOCIETY (SELF-HELP ORGANIZATION)
After the creation of the Krakow ghetto, the Jewish Self-Help Organization (ZSS) was located in the building of the former pre-war bank (built-in 1910) at Jozefinska 18. The body, under the direction of Jewish Michael Weichert, provided food supplies to public kitchens, medicines in hospitals, as well as assistance to other charitable institutions within the ghetto walls. It was dissolved by the Germans on December 1, 1942. Today, as well as before the war, the building houses the ”Kasa Oszczednosci Miasta Podgorza” Savings Bank.
GHETTO GERMAN LABOR OFFICE (ARBEITSAMT)
After the formation of the Krakow ghetto, the so-called Arbeitsamt (German labor Office) was located in the building at Jozefinska 10. Despite the completely innocuous name, the body provided full employment for all Jews in the ghetto over 14 years old, of both sexes. About 60% of the Jews in the Krakow ghetto area were eventually employed at German enterprises outside the walls. The rest were used for clearing snow in the winter, sweeping the streets in the warm season, building, and various utility works. Each worker had to have a special document, a work card permission, updated monthly within the Arbeitsamt building. A jew with permission was able to avoid deportations to death camps, leave the ghetto walls daily and return after the shift. The enterprises paid 4-5 PLN per worker per day to the German administration, and the Krakow Jews did receive nothing.
GHETTO MAIN HOSPITAL
Initially, the institution of the Communal Jewish Hospital was located in the Kazimierz district, and after the establishment of the Krakow ghetto, it was moved to Jozefinska 14, next to the German labor office. It treated not only Jews from the ghetto but also other settlements in the Krakow region. During the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto in March 1943, all the patients and doctors were brutally murdered by the Germans. This scene, among others, became famous because of the “Schindler’s List” movie.
JULIUS MADRITSCH’S FACTORY
Prior to the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto and the transfer of the enterprise to the territory of the Plaszow labor camp, the factory of Austrian industrialist Julius Madritch was located at Rynek Podgoski 2, next to the Judenrat office. The factory was engaged in tailoring, and its staff consisted of about 800 Jewish workers. Through the personal efforts of Madtrich himself and his administrator Raymond Tisch, hundreds of lives were saved from being sent to the death camps. The enterprise of Julius Madritch was known for better working conditions and additional provisions, which the Austrian businessman bought for his own money.
The capacities of the Optima factory, which had produced chocolate before the war, occupied almost a whole quarter, between the streets of Krakusa and Wegierska. With the beginning of the occupation, the profile of the factory was changed, and now Jewish workers here were engaged in sewing clothes and shoemaking. During the mass deportations and Krakow ghetto massacre on June 6, 1942, most of the captured Jews were temporarily detained on the territory of the Optima factory prior to being sent to Belzec. The original buildings of the Optima factory have not survived our days in their original form. At the same time, you can see the original Optima sign on the facade of the building at Krakusa 7.
KRAKOW ORPHANAGE FOR JEWISH CHILDREN
This Jewish orphanage in Krakow was created before the war, in 1936, and was located at Krakusa 8. In addition to the orphanage for children, school lessons were organized for them, which were taught by Anna Feuerstein. After the mass deportations and reduction of the ghetto territory in June 1942, the shelter was moved to Jozefinska 31 at the building where the furniture factory had previously worked. After the decision to place an Order Police Office in the adjacent buildings, the orphanage was moved for the second time down the street to number 41. During the second deportation action in October 1942, the Germans brutally eliminated the orphanage. Older children were pushed to the Plac Zgody square (similar to the notorious ‘Umschlagplatz’ in Warsaw) for further deportation, and the younger ones were taken to the Plaszow labor camp, where most of them were killed upon arrival.
At the time of the outbreak of the war, there were four Jewish synagogues in the Podgozge district, within the ghetto created by the Germans. The only surviving of them until today is the Zucker Synagogue at Wegierska 5. The occupation authorities banned any religious gatherings of Jews and turned the synagogue buildings into warehouses. The same fate befell the Zucker synagogue. First, valuables from other synagogues in the Kazimierz district were demolished here, and then the Germans set up a warehouse here, and after a while the factory. The building, built in 1879-1881, was abandoned after the war and gradually collapsed before it was redeemed in 1996, the facade was restored and turned into an art gallery which is still here today.
REMAINS OF THE KRAKOW GHETTO WALL
Two fragments of the Krakow ghetto wall have been preserved until today. The first, 12 meters long, is located near the Lwoska 25-29 buildings. Only in 1983, a plaque in Polish and Hebrew was placed here: ”Here they lived, suffered and died in the hands of German executioners. Here they began their way to the death camps”. The second 11-meter fragment of the Krakow ghetto wall is preserved in the courtyard behind the local school, at Boleslawa Limanowskiego 62, at the foot of the hill, and at Fort Benedict. The upper part of the ghetto wall was erected in the form of Jewish tombstones – thus the Germans with cruel symbolism made it clear what fate awaits Jews in these walls.
After the establishment of the Krakow ghetto, several cafes were preserved in it, where the Germans spent their time. Among them was the ”Variete” restaurant, located at Rynek Podgorski 15. It was owned by Aleksander Frostrer, a wealthy businessman of German-Jewish origin, who arrived in Krakow in 1941. The cafe was located directly across the street from the Judenrat building to the left of the Main Gate to the ghetto. Today it houses a store.
JEWISH ORPHANAGE AT JEZEFINSKA 22
At Jozefinska street 22, very close to the Jewish Self-help Organization, there was an orphanage for children 6-14 years old, who were given there for a while, while their parents worked during the daytime. During the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto in March 1943, the Germans broke into the building and brutally killed all the children and support staff who were there at the time.
THE SECOND JUDENRAT OFFICE
In June 1942, after the dissolution of the primary version of the Jewish Judenrat at Rynek Podgorski, and after the arrest of its leader, a new body was formed by the Germans. It was named the ”Ghetto Management Board” and obtained a new head, Dawid Gutter. The work of the puppet body at Wegierska 16 continued until the liquidation of the ghetto in March 1943, the dissolution of the council, and the expulsion of its members.
GATES AFTER JUNE 20, 1942
After a massacre and mass deportation of the inhabitants of the Krakow ghetto to the death camp of Belzec, on June 20, 1942, the German administration ordered the area to be reduced. Almost half of the former territory in the south was now beyond the new administrative boundary and natural barrier along Limanowskiego Street. New gates on the south side were installed at the corner of Limanowskiego and Wegierska streets, adjoining the building where the new body of the ”Ghetto Management Board”, which replaced the first Judenrat, now worked.
JOSEF PILSUDKI BRIDGE
The first bridge with this name, 146 meters long, was opened in 1933, connecting the Podgozge and Kazimierz districts. During the forced relocation of Jews to the established ghetto in Podgozge in March 1941, the Pilsudski Bridge became (like the Krakus Bridge) a transport route for people to move from the Kazimierz district. During the evacuation of the German troops from Krakow in January 1945, the Pilsudski bridge was mined and seriously damaged, and its current appearance, close to the original, was restored in 1948. It is located outside the territory of the former Krakow ghetto, but it is an important historical monument that deserves a mention here.