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Jewish ‘pilgrimage’ to Poland more than only Auschwitz

  • Poland
When a Jew goes to Poland these days it is perceived as a “pilgrimage to Auschwitz”. While a visit to witness where one of the most heinous crimes of history occurred is essential, Poland has become one of the most welcoming countries outside of Israel for Jewish travellers.
by IVAN ZARTZ | Sep 02, 2015

If not on an organised tour, one needs to prepare for one’s trip well in advance. I had the help of Tali Nates, head of the Holocaust Centre in Johannesburg and Rabbi Yossi Hecht who opened spiritual doors for me.

The two key cities are Warsaw and Krakow. Before the war, Warsaw had a Jewish population of 400 000 and Krakow around 80 000. Those figures have trickled to 1 500 and 400 respectively. Warsaw was the birthplace of Frederic Chopin, Marie Curie and film producer Samuel Goldwyn.

One can go on free walking tours to places of interest. The guides are normally students who earn money from tips. They are knowledgeable and their English is polished. One can also arrange private tours with these guides to match one’s specific interests at a cost of R1 200.

From a Jewish perspective, the only kosher restaurant in Warsaw is Galil, but you will need to book well in advance. There is a daily minyan at the main shul in Warsaw and regular Friday evening and Saturday morning services at Chabad.

The Polin Museum opened in 2014 and is dedicated to the history of Eastern European Jews with the emphasis on Poland. There are eight large rooms which make up the Coit exhibition and each room traces the history of Polish Jews from the 10th century to the present.  

Prior to visiting this museum one should visit the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute and the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Other places of Jewish interest in Warsaw are the Old Cemetery and the Korczak orphanage, the place where hundreds of orphaned Jewish children stayed during the Nazi uprising.

There is not much to see of the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto as the area has been redeveloped with the Polin Museum at its epicentre. One can visit the Mila 18 Memorial and view various tenements where Jews stayed in shockingly overcrowded conditions, as well as the Umschlagplatz memorial where 300 000 Jews were transported to Treblinka. I would strongly suggest a walking tour in this area.

Krakow has no kosher restaurants but there is a kosher catering service and one can arrange for room service in advance. Dinners cost around R350 for a three-course meal. The Holiday Inn Krakow City is centrally located and the Jewish Quarter is a 15-minute walk from the hotel. They will arrange kosher meals for you.

Many scenes from “Schindler’s List” were shot in the Jewish Quarter and in the nearby Liban Quarry.

The Schindler Museum is situated nearby and is a must to visit. I would recommend a free walking tour to the Jewish Quarter. Many restaurants have Hebrew signage and advertise specialities such as gefilte fish, borscht soup and kneidlach, but beware, they are not kosher.

Wandering through the Jewish Quarter in the evening, one can listen to klezmer music at the various restaurants or attend the Isaac Walton Synagogue where a concert is held at 18:00 nightly, except on Shabbat. 

Auschwitz is approximately 75 minutes from Krakow and one can arrange a six-hour visit with an English-speaking guide at a cost of R200. 

1 Comment

  1. 1 Mark 13 Oct
    This Jewish ‘pilgrimage’ to Poland more than only Auschwitz is uncommonly helpfull for an individual .your web diary is so huge for anyone to see it . I am awed to see this online diary.

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