Whilst visiting Krakow in Poland you will discover that there is a little piece of history to be found down every road in the city. The places to visit relating to the city’s long-standing Jewish history is seemingly endless however only one location will stop you in your tracks – The Ghetto Heroes Square.
The Ghetto During the German Occupation in WWII
Located across the river Vistula from the Jewish quarter The Ghetto Heroes Square is the centre of what used to be the Krakow Ghetto during WWII, inhabited by 68,000 Jews. Formerly known as Plac Zgody (Concord Square), between 1941 and 1943 the square was the site of mass murders of Krakow’s Polish Jews by the German Nazis and the site where thousands were transported to the concentration camps.
1940: Krakow’s Jewish residents were ordered to leave the city within 3 months of the German occupation in 1940 however around 17,000 didn’t which resulted in the Nazis forcibly removing them into the newly built ghetto in March 1941.
1942: From 1st to the 8th June and also on 28th October 1942 mass deportation took place at the ghetto with scores of its Jewish inhabitants being transported to the Belzec death camp. What remained of the smaller ghetto was divided into 2 sections; A contained the employed whilst B contained the unemployed.
1943: On 13th March 1943 the Nazis liquidated the ghetto with the entire population of section A being sent into forced labour at the Plaszow labour camps in addition to Oskar Schindler’s factory. The inhabitants of section B which was mostly women, children, the elderly and the ill were however either immediately murdered in the ghetto or were transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp for mass execution.
70 Cast Iron & Bronze Chairs
Within the square there are 70 chairs made from cast iron and bronze. Each chair represents 1,000 people and the possessions that they took with them to the ghetto and had to leave behind. It was created as a permanent memorial to the tragedy of the Polish Jews who were imprisoned and died either here or at the concentration camps.
Apteka pod Orlem – Under the Eagle Pharmacy
Within the Ghetto Heroes Square there is the Pharmacy Under the Eagle. This was controlled by Polish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz during the city’s Nazi occupation. Tadeusz kept the pharmacy running despite it being located within the ghetto, repeatedly risking his own life to help save Jewish families by leading them out of the ghetto with false passports.
The pharmacy has been kept as close to its original state as possible and you are able to purchase tickets and look around. It’s small but tells more of the history of the ghetto and the story of this incredibly brave and selfless man.
The Krakow Ghetto Wall
There are few remaining identifiers that the ghetto once stood here as many of the buildings were destroyed and have been rebuilt. One section of the original ghetto wall does remain however and is located in the south corner of the Ghetto Heroes Square, on Lwowska Street. It has a regular supply of flowers, a commemorative plaque and is a stark reminder that the people who once stood in this square were fully imprisoned with very little chance of escape.
Walking around the Ghetto Heroes Square whilst knowing what happened here will bring about a lot of emotions. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Even relief that for those poor souls their ordeal is over. One thing that cannot be escaped however is that sheer disbelief that what happened here in the centre of Krakow was able to take place.
It is so important that we learn from the past and so I would strongly recommend that if you are visiting Krakow this year either by yourself or with family you make an effort to visit the Ghetto Heroes Square. Not to take photos and selfies but to have some quiet time and contemplation. The feeling you have standing in the square and knowing its history is indescribable. Read the displays presented, educate yourself, and certainly help educate the future generations.
Have you already visited the Ghetto Heroes Square or are you planning to visit this year? Let us know in the comments below.