The day after visiting Auschwitz I would spend the afternoon seeking out the last remnants of the Kraków Ghetto Wall. Just standing in front of the short stretch of 12ft gray wall was a sobering experience. Across the top are a series of arches the Nazi’s purposefully shaped like tombstones to signify the people inside the ghetto would not make it out alive.
I would also pay my respects at the Kraków Ghetto Memorial and at Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory where he saved the lives of hundreds of Jews.
From Kraków I traveled into Warsaw by train. The moment I emerged from Warsaw’s underground Centrala train station I was hit by the stark differences between the two cities. Kraków is a beautiful medieval town filled with stunning architecture that dates back to the 13th century. There are numerous charming parks, outdoor cafes, and the sound of horse hooves clip-clopping on cobblestone streets. Chosen as the German capital in occupied Poland it suffered minimal damage during the war and the people who live there seem united in the immaculate preservation of the historical events that took place on their soul. Smiling locals were quick to point you in the right direction when asking for help and would often suggest sites to see.
In Warsaw, which was completely leveled during the war, the appeal of Kraków had been replaced by a bleak industrial feel. The colorless buildings were square and a squealing train system occupied the majority of the paved streets. This forced everyone down cold concrete stairs into the “underground pedestrian tunnels”. These passageways are like a small confusing city themselves where your GPS doesn’t work, making Warsaw the least user friendly place I’ve ever explored.
The biggest difference was the demeanor of the people. The smiles of Kraków had vanished and in their place were downward cast eyes and a downtrodden disposition. When asking for directions I was repeatedly brushed off with shrugged shoulders or ignored.
So, in the midst of a fierce snow storm, I would repeatedly lose my way and have to scale rickety fences before I was able to find the last section of the Warsaw Ghetto wall. This monumental piece of history was hidden between two apartment buildings on a quite residential street. My initial observation was that the wall was in the beginning stages of disrepair, with pieces of broken brick littering the ground. I scooped up a few pieces of the broken brick to save, took pictures of the wall, and bowed my head in a moment of silence.
When planning my trip I was very excited about my next stop in Warsaw but was horrified to see that one of the last tenement buildings in the Jewish Ghetto, a building that had previously served as a memorial to those forced to live there, had now been renovated into luxury condos without so much as a memorial plaque to mark the location. It seemed to the observing eye that unlike Kraków, Warsaw may be trying to forget all that that their nation had suffered.
To be continued…
All photographs taken by Jennifer-Lynne Brack unless otherwise noted.