Mike Rosenzweig, Ph. D.

Jewish-Polish Heritage

Poland revisited
Two competing Ariel Cafes in the Kazimierz district of Krakow offer live Jewish music and delicious food. They provide a tantalizing glimpse of the vibrancy of pre-war cafe culture. At that time Kazimierz was the center of Jewish life in the city of Krakow. At one time there was only one Ariel Cafe run by a young Polish couple. They had a falling out and decided to go separate ways each desiring to lay claim to the name Ariel. They took the matter before a magistrate who decided that it was a domestic dispute and refused to render a verdict. He suggested that the couple resolve the matter themselves. Since they were unable to do so we now have two Ariel Cafes.




Remu Cemetery in Krakow, Poland








The Old Synagogue 

It was probably built at the beginning of the fifteenth century (1407). It was exclusively a men's synagogue ­ rectangular, with two naves and cross­ribbed vaulting supported on two columns, walls supported by scarps and a gabled roof. The eastern wall adjoined the city ramparts, which completely screened the synagogue. The two­nave interior alluded to the architecture of Gothic synagogues in Worms, Regensburg and Prague. One­story annexes were built next to it in the second half of the sixteenth century ­ a vestibule in the northwestern corner and a prayer room for women at the western wall.

In 1570 the synagogue was rebuilt by the architect Matteo Gucci of Florence. Its walls were made significantly higher and crowned with an arcaded parapet, which has survived to this day in its original form. The original cross­ribbed vaulting was restored in the synagogue interior, supported on high Tuscan columns. The bimah in the middle of the room, the Ark (Aron­ha­kodesh) on the eastern wall and the portal at the main entrance were new Renaissance details.

Later, more prayer rooms for women were added ­ the southern one at the end of the sixteenth century and the northern one in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, together with a special chamber for the Jewish community council, above the vestibule. Like the vestibule, that room was connected with the council building, adjoining the western annexes to the synagogue. The synagogue and the council building formed the true religious and administrative center of Kazimierz's Jewish community. This building complex survived until the 1880's, when the building was pulled down.

The western facade, uncovered when the building was demolished, was reconstructed by Jan Sas­Zubrzych in 1891. Before the First World War and afterwards, the synagogue underwent a long renovation, after designs made by the well­known Krakow architect Zygmunt Hendel in 1904, 1913 and 1923. This work significantly improved the synagogue physically and functionally and added Neo­Renaissance detail to its architecture, in harmony with its older historical structure.

The western annex was made straight to form a right angle (its upper floor had been built in the nineteenth century already), and a colonnade porch was added. The rooms above the vestibule gained a new, broad staircase. The street level around the synagogue was lowered down to its sixteenth­century level, surrounded by a new decorative fence.

During the Second World War, when the Germans set up a ghetto  in Podgorze and moved all the Jewish people who remained in Krakow to the ghetto in March 1941, the synagogue was taken over by the German Fiduciary Office and was used as an army warehouse. Its furnishings were either destroyed or taken away. At the end of 1944 the vaulting collapsed, perhaps purposely destroyed. After the war the synagogue remained abandoned and ruined for several years. In the early 1950's some temporary protection was ordered by the City Curator of Historic Monuments in Krakow.

In 1956­59, a complete renovation was done by the Atelier for the Renovation of Historic Monuments in Krakow. The vaulting in the main room, a new bimah, the Ark, the main portal and the Baroque treasury box next to it were restored, and the uncovered wall paintings underwent conservation. All the annexes to the main room were substantially renovated. At the same time, the synagogue was adapted to its new function as a Judaica museum. For this purpose, the former old women's rooms, which at one time had separate entrances from the outside, were connected by passageways to the men's synagogue, replacing the original interior bays.

Upon completion of the work, the building owner, that is the Jewish Religious Community in Krakow, transferred the Old Synagogue building to the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow in perpetual usufruct. A museum dedicated to the history and culture of Krakow's Jews was established there.



Reminders of the Holocaust




Chmielnik Cemetery was destroyed by German occupation forces in 1941. Many of my ancestors were buried here. There are currently less than six gravestones left. None remain standing. They lie on the ground and are overgrown with weeds. The spray painted swastika is of recent vintage.






Chmielnik Synagogue blown up by retreating German Army in 1944. During World War II it was used as a storehouse for German Army supplies. My grandparents were married here in 1881. There has been some interest in restoration by Americans with ancestors from this area.






Dzialoszyce Synagogue continues to lie in ruins. There are no local funds available or interest in restoration. Most synagogues in Poland are in this condition. The new restitution law returns jurisdiction to the local Jewish Community, but since none exists the point is moot.





Memorial to the Kielce Pogrom, July 4, 1946 in which 42 Jews were murdered. The pogrom was based on a rumor that Polish children were being kept against their will in the basement of a house at 7/9 Planty Street. The police patrols that were sent to investigate immediately began telling people that Jews were kidnapping children. The fact that the building had no basement did not deter them. At 11:00 AM, police and soldiers entered the building, beat up the residents and forced them into the yard where they were set upon by an angry mob. Two soldiers broke into the room where Seweryn Kahane was trying to telephone for help and shot him in the back of the head. In the early afternoon, six hundred workers from a nearby factory joined the mob. Jews were clubbed to death with fencing rails, iron bars and stones. On July ninth a trial of the participants began. Nine rioters out of the several hundred participants were convicted. On July fourteenth, after a refusal of presidential pardon, they were executed by firing squad. As a result of this tragedy, more than half of the 250,000 Jews living in Poland at the time immediately emigrated to either Israel or the United States.


Work permits of Cyrla and Susskind Rosenzweig issued
during Nazi occupation of Krakow.

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