(photo credit: Bloomberg)
For many Jews around the world, all roads at the end of this week will lead to
Krakow. It’s not some massive roots mission in the traditional sense; anyone who
feels the need to visit the concentration and death camps established during the
Holocaust era can do so in their own time. But that’s not part of what’s
happening at the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, which takes place between June
25 and July 4. In a more nostalgic sense, the festival is a roots mission that
will take participants back to the cultural origins of Polish Jewry in an
attempt to recapture part of a world that was but is no more.
recent years Jewish life in Krakow has been restored to a certain extent,
especially since Chabad set up operations there. But the ghosts of old Jewish
Krakow, prodded by – of all people – a gentile, have for the past two decades
been rising for one week of every year in the historic Kazimierz district, with
Jewish music, hassidic dance, paper-cutting, lectures on Judaism, Jewish
philosophy, literature and history, Jewish films and more.
responsible for all this is a Polish Catholic by the name of Janusz
as a teenager heard for the first time that there was once a vibrant
community in Krakow that had left its imprint on both local Polish
national Polish culture.
When he asked his interlocutor where these Jews
had gone, he also learned for the first time about the Holocaust. This
him an almost obsessive drive to restore the Jewish spirit of
He started with a relatively modest Jewish festival in 1988,
and each year the festival grew and got better as more people became
The tourism industry, for instance, quickly recognized the
potential of the festival and began opening Jewish- style restaurants
hotels with Jewish names.
Several synagogues still stand in the area.
Most have been turned into museums, but at least two are in fairly
as places of worship, and a third is occasionally used.
Chabad took over
one of the seven synagogues that were preserved, as a result of which
religiously observant Jewish visitors to Krakow no longer have to worry
acquiring kosher food. There are also museums and bookstores of Jewish
Jewish and non-Jewish lecturers – including, this year,
Ambassador Zvi Rav-Ner – and entertainers, especially klezmer bands in
of non- Jews, are drawn from Israel, the United States, Canada, Poland
parts of Europe to the magnetic charms of Krakow.
Before the war, there
were some 68,000 Jews in Krakow. The overwhelming majority was murdered,
most of those who survived and remained in Poland kept their Jewish
secret. Now, they are gradually emerging from the woodwork.
For Poles who
have been developing an extraordinary curiosity for all things Jewish,
becoming increasingly aware of Jewish contributions to Polish culture,
has become the temporary well of knowledge where they can quench their
It’s amazing, but they come from all over Poland, and those who have two
of Jewish blood that they might have once been ashamed of, now
genetic ancestry with pride.