Schindler For Sale

By GRAHAM CLARK

KRAKOW—At the dawn of World War II, Jews made up about one-quarter of the city’s population. Today, there are some 200 left.

But in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter, tourists see many restaurants and other attractions that focus on Jewish heritage. Depending on who is asked, the neighborhood has either been revitalized by tourist attention or become the site of a massive exploitative fabrication.

“This is kind of a Disney World version of the Jewish Poland,” said Thorin Tritter, managing director of FASPE. He cites Steven Spielberg’s popular 1993 film, Schindler’s List, for putting Kazimierz on the map: the iconic Oscar Schindler’s factory still stands nearby, now serving as a museum.

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The release of the blockbuster film ‘Schindler’s List’ in 1993 brought a boom in tourism to Krakow’s Jewish district in Kazimierz. Photo by Dustin Volz.

After the film that won seven Oscars was released, tourists came seeking to experience where it was filmed. But there was not much to see. Restaurants with piped-in Klezmer now line the streets. But most are not owned by Jews. Like other historic sectors of Krakow, golf carts full of tourists trundle about with frequency, blasting pre-recorded rundowns in English explaining the area’s monuments.

“There’s no question that there’s been an economic revival here,” said Tritter. He identifies the city’s annual Jewish Festival as a positive, more substantial way of celebrating the neighborhood’s history and culture.

“There are efforts by the community to deal with that history,” he continued. “But you’ll see these tchotchkes, figurines of Jewish caricatures either counting coins or with big long beards and big noses. That’s definitely the dark side.”

Katarzyna Suszkiewicz, a Krakow resident and Ph.D. Candidate at Jagiellonian University who was helping the FASPE group called Kazimierz “a virtual Jewish Neighborhood.”

“This is something all places face,” she said. Suszkiewicz suggests a way to understand it is to look at the planned socialist community of Nowa Huta. Huta is a nearby destination where tourists seek a glimpse of the country’s communist past—as Suszkiewicz said, “to feel the Communist spirit, to drink the vodka in the old style. There are definitely people who are using history in their favor, or misusing it.”

Poland’s government has increasingly devoted attention to the commoditization of history, Suszkiewicz said. “The local government wants to create a modern metropolis, however, keeping a very historic basis and essence.”

 

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