Haunting and Thriving... Kazimierz

I am continually finding myself down in Kazimierz, a distinct neighborhood in Krakow. Of course it has to do with the fact that the Ethnographic Museum is located here but there is something else... A haunting and a vibrant quality resonates around and within this place, most likely because of it's rich and intense history.

This part of Krakow was founded by Kazimierz the Great in 1335 and was built with it's own wall, two distinct churches, town hall and plans for a university. Kazimierz became even more distinct and separate in it's feel when in the late 15th century the king moved Krakow's Jewish population here. It was a thriving center of Jewish culture for many, many years where there was relatively peaceful coexistence of the Jewish and Polish people. Synagogues, churches, Jewish cemeteries, historic buildings, narrow streets lined with buildings showing their age and character, cobblestone streets and squares mark this place with a solid character and feel. Please read about Kazimierz on Wikipedia if you are interested in it's history.

Kazimierz is haunting. Perhaps it's a haunted place? I sense people who are long gone and events that took place here. There is an echo of intense sadness vibrating from empty buildings, stone walls, rebuilt synagogues, narrow cobblestone streets. However, alongside and touching this haunting is vitality. There is a  quality of time moving on and people moving forward with fresh, healing energy. Does Kazimierz have a dualistic nature? These two qualities, hand in hand, are bound together in my sense of this place.

I also feel confusion, disgust and mourning about the years of terror during the Nazi occupation of Krakow for about 5 and 1/2 years between 1939 and 1945 when the Polish and the Jewish populations were brutally terrorized. I went to Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory, which is now a permanent exhibition called "Krakow Under Nazi Occupation, 1939-1945", were I was overwhelmed with tons of information describing  the intense history of this time... where both horror and humanity were expressed.  Erased lives, families that were torn apart, hate, discrimination, murder, destruction... all this is palpable. So is the reality that some survived and risked their lives to aid in the survival of others.

A sense of this time infuses Kazimierz even today. What was once a thriving Jewish center is a fraction of what it was. Prior to WWII Krakow was home to thousands and thousands (60,000 -70,000) of active Jewish people. One feels the ghosts of this kind of cultural and religious presence. Now the Jewish population is small but thriving. Synagogues have been rebuilt, museums and educational materials share the intense stories, Jewish religious observations are taking place, cafes, shops and live music bring vitality, energy and awareness back. Perhaps healing is happening here? Time is moving on.

Many people live in Kazimierz now. It is home to a thriving and very cool cafe scene. Cafes serve coffee, tea, wine, beer and alcohol. Spaces, rooms...one leading to another, filled with vases of colorful flowers, art work on the walls, dripping wax candles gracing every table, nook and cranny along the bars and walls, outdoor garden space to sit, talk and sip a drink. I could do a blog post just about these wonderful places and spaces. Art galleries line streets, studios, restaurants... colorful signs and atmosphere. Kazimierz has a bohemian feel which is infusing this place with fresh beauty and vitality.

The pictures shared with this post were taken over a few days... there are photographs of street scenes, a synagogue, buildings, a museum display celebrating American-Jewish music, spaces that were featured in Spielberg's movie, "Schindler's List", artistic spaces, places with history...