Wanderlust: Krakow


Wanderlust Krakow Jay Michael

My mother and I took an early afternoon train from Warsaw to Krakow…our first stop before our trek to Auschwitz.


Apart from the language, Krakow had almost nothing that reminded me of Warsaw. The thoroughfares were grand and clean, all leading you to the royal centerpiece of the city; a gothic castle atop a hill that was only a drawstring bridge and mote short of a medieval fairytale movie. We traveled on one of the many cobblestone streets to the Jewish quarter, and unlike Warsaw, there looked to be a vibrant and living Jewish culture. We visited a few Synagogues in the quarter and unearthed a rich tradition.


Across an idyllic bridge over the Danube, we found a very moving and unvisited monument called the Empty Chairs Memorial which was the brainchild of a young Krakow based architecture student. A few years back, a small square within the former Krakow Jewish Ghetto was part of an architectural competition to find a new and compelling use for the space. The winner proposed 68 empty iron chairs to represent the 68,000 Jews killed from Krakow; 67 facing one direction (evenly scattered throughout the square) and 1 facing the very spot where the Nazis shot those that didn’t make it to the camps. I took a picture of the ghetto’s sign from that singled out chair. (Reminder to self – We can forgive without forgetting).


My buddy Raf from Warsaw made me promise him we would visit Królestwo Pierożka (Kingdom Perogi) as he insisted this basement perogi joint had the best in all of Poland. He was 100% correct. There was no English menu, and even though our hotel and guide discouraged us from trying it, we did anyhow…and they had the most delicious perogis and capusta (cabbage) salads I have ever had.


Our first morning in Krakow was spent driving to Auschwitz.  The day was filled with sorrow… not the kind that made me teary, but rather the sort that enraged me. I kept saying to myself How could the Polish people allow this…were they not strong enough to stand up for what was right? There is an obvious level of shame from the Poles… and like I’ve said before, this was a mission to forgive, though I will never forget. As I walked through the different exhibits, I couldn’t get the heaping piles of shoes out of my mind. Piles made by the very innocent civilians about to enter their final ‘shower.’ I could see my mother weak at her knees. These victims could have been cousins or aunts of hers. At Auschwitz, all Jews are family.


Our journey back to Krakow was somber. We drove as close to the route of the trains from Krakow as we could; a journey made by millions before us without return.

Jay Michael collage in Krakow

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