Things to see in Krakow

Kraków—Part 3—Schindler’s Factory and the Jewish Quarter

The front facade of Schindler's Factory.

The front facade of Schindler’s Factory.

One of the highlights of a visit to Kraków is a stop at Schindler’s Factory, on the southeastern edge of the city in the district of Podgórze.  Oskar Schindler was immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List (1993) as the man who saved about 1,200 Jews during World War II by employing them in his factory making goods for the German military.

Sign in front of the Factory Museum. "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."

Sign in front of the Factory Museum. “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

Photos of Jews saved by Oskar Schindler.

Photos of Jews saved by Oskar Schindler.

A photo of Oskar Schindler (left).

A photo of Oskar Schindler (left).

“For some, war leaves no choice; for others it makes choosing a must. A small gesture can yield irreversible consequences. It can either save a life or ruin it.” (A quote from the Schindler museum)

The factory building is still standing and is now an excellent museum, describing the invasion and occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany (1939 to 1945) and daily life in the huge Jewish Ghetto of Kraków, where thousands of Jews were crammed into tiny quarters after their homes and possessions were confiscated by the Nazis. There are numerous pictures, exhibits, stories and displays of what life was like during the Nazi occupation. I really can’t imagine the constant terror of not knowing what will be your fate – will you live through the night, will your family be taken from you, or will you be shot to death on a whim?

Prior to my visit, I had hoped to see the actual factory floor as an exhibit, but all that remains of the actual factory are a few machines, Schindler’s office and some of the goods manufactured in the factory. However, the well-organized museum is definitely worth visiting. Plan a few hours to see and absorb all the information.

Schindler's office and desk.

Schindler’s office and desk.

Some of the products Schindler's Factory produced.

Some of the products Schindler’s Factory produced.

One of the metal-working machines from Schindler's Factory.

One of the metal-working machines from Schindler’s Factory.

Schindler’s Factory is a long walk from the center of Kraków, or take a tram from the main post office in the Old Town. There are signs marking the way to the Factory from the tram stop.

A sign pointing the way to Schindler's Factory.

A sign pointing the way to Schindler’s Factory.

Jewish Quarter

The Kraków district of Kazimierz (in between Old Town and Podgórze) is known as the Jewish quarter and it was a vibrant area prior to the deportation and extermination of the Jewish population during World War II.

ul Szeroka. The wide street or square that is the heart of the Jewish Quarter.

ul Szeroka. The wide street or square that is the heart of the Jewish Quarter.

Only about 10% of the Jews living in Kraków survived the war. The community has undergone something of a revival since the release of Schindler’s List.

The Remuh Cemetery. Dates from the mid-16th century. Many of the tombstones were buried to avoid desecration. One of the best-preserved Renaissance Jewish cemeteries in Europe.

The Remuh Cemetery. Dates from the mid-16th century. Many of the tombstones were buried to avoid desecration. One of the best-preserved Renaissance Jewish cemeteries in Europe.

Remuh Synagogue. The smallest synagogue in this area. Completed in 1558.

Remuh Synagogue. The smallest synagogue in this area. Completed in 1558.

Isaac's Synagogue interior. Kraków's largest synagogue, completed in 1644. A close inspection reveals the original wall paintings.

Isaac’s Synagogue interior. Kraków’s largest synagogue, completed in 1644. A close inspection reveals the original wall paintings.

We enjoyed visiting the synagogues, wandering the streets and squares in this community. On some of the houses, information is provided on the families who lived there during World War II and their fate.

Reference: Lonely Planet Travel Guide – Poland

Kraków – Part 2 – Wawel Castle

A miniature layout of Wawel Castle. The main castle and cathedral are at the far end of the display.

A miniature layout of Wawel Castle. The main castle and cathedral are at the far end of the display.

One of the premier tourist sites in Kraków is Wawel Castle, located on a hill above the Vistula River on the southern edge of the old town. Wawel Castle was the home of the Polish kingdom for about 500 years (12th century to 16th century).

A view of Wawel Castle from the Vistula River.

A view of Wawel Castle from the Vistula River.

A great way to see Wawel Castle's exterior is by a carriage ride.

A great way to see Wawel Castle’s exterior is by a carriage ride.

The Bernardyńska Gate to Wawel Castle.

The Bernardyńska Gate to Wawel Castle.

Although a few foundation remnants of the original Castle still exist, what we see today is mainly from the 16th century. Wawel suffered many attacks and lootings by the Swedish and Prussian armies over the centuries. It underwent significant restoration after World War I. Although the Castle sits on a bit of a hill, it cannot be seen from the main square in old Kraków.

The arcaded courtyard of Wawel Castle.

The arcaded courtyard of Wawel Castle.

One of the ceilings in Wawel Castle.

One of the ceilings in Wawel Castle.

In the Hall of the Senators, with its magnificent Biblical tapestries.

In the Hall of the Senators, with its magnificent Biblical tapestries.

In the Hall of the Deputies - although it's hard to tell, this is an image of the ceiling with 30 individually carved human heads, representing the cycle of life from birth to death. There were originally 194 carved heads (completed around the year 1535), these 30 are all that remain.

In the Hall of the Deputies – although it’s hard to tell, this is an image of the ceiling with 30 individually carved human heads, representing the cycle of life from birth to death. There were originally 194 carved heads (completed around the year 1535), these 30 are all that remain.

A major draw to the castle grounds is Wawel Cathedral, where numerous royal coronations and funerals have taken place. Inside, many of the tombs of Polish kings are seen. The current Cathedral dates from 1364, and is the third church on the site.

The exterior of Wawel Cathedral has a number of interesting facades.

The exterior of Wawel Cathedral has a number of interesting facades.

One of the chapels in Wawel Cathedral.

One of the chapels in Wawel Cathedral.

Another view of Wawel Cathedral, with its ornate decorations.

Another view of Wawel Cathedral, with its ornate decorations.

The Castle is very busy, so plan ahead – we bought our tickets the day before we wanted to visit, and each ticket has a specific entry time (you can wander the grounds for free). There are five different ticket options, so you have to decide what you want to visit, such as the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments, the Crown Treasury & Armory, Oriental Art Exhibit, or Lost Wawel (where you see some of the old original foundations and other artifacts found at Wawel from ancient times). We toured the State Apartments and really enjoyed the artwork and beauty of the ornate chambers.

Note that backpacks are not allowed in the interior rooms, and must be checked into a locker. Due to severe restrictions on photographs, it’s almost impossible to take pictures inside the Castle and the Cathedral – I captured just the few above. So, you’ll have to take my word for it…visiting Wawel Castle and Cathedral are must-dos on a visit to Kraków.