Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Never Forget

A mural on a wall in Kazimierz, the
old Jewish quarter of Krakow where
a vibrant Jewish community thrived
until destroyed in the Holocaust.
The Jewish Community of Krakow is an orthodox Jewish community the range of which is the south-east part of Poland. Currently the Community numbers about 100 members. The main synagogue which is functioning is the orthodox Remuh Synagogue. Additionally, sometimes two other synagogues are used for services, the Kupa Synagogue and the Tempel Synagogue. Apart from that the Congregation is the legal owner of the following synagogues in Krakow: the Old Synagogue (Alte Shul; currently a museum), Isaac Synagogue, High Synagogue, Popper Synagogue, Mizrachi Shul and other buildings located in the Małopolska area, such as synagogues in Bobowa, Grybów or Słomniki. Also, the Congregation is takes care of the following cemeteries: the New Cemetery (the only functioning Jewish cemetery in Krakow), the Remuh Cemetery and the Abraham Cemetery in Krakow; cemeteries in Tarnów, Nowy Targ, Zakopane, Bochnia, Nowy Sącz, Krynica, Łabowa and Gorlice. The congregation also holds a kosher lunchroom, seniors' club and a mikveh. The Chief Rabbi of Krakow is Rabbi Boaz Pash. An important part of the Jewish life in Krakow is the Jewish Community Centre (JCC Krakow) which was established due to an initiative of His Royal Highness, Prince Charles of Wales, the Jewish Religious Congregation in Krakow and with the support of World Jewish Relief and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The Jewish Community Centre in Krakow is a vibrant and living place, and educational and cultural centre, and the meeting place for the Jewish community.

        I found this information on a website about the Jewish Community in Krakow while researching another topic and it struck me to the heart.  I have been to Krakow several times; it is one of my favorite cities in Europe.  it was only on my third visit to the city, however, that I went to Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter and saw the remains of a once vibrant culture that was all but destroyed—indeed I think one can say was destroyed—by the ravages of the Holocaust.  Look at the number of synagogues once needed: The Remuh Synagogue, the Tempel Synagogue, the Kupa Synagogue, the Alte Shul, the Issac Synagogue, the High Synagogue, the Popper Synagogue, the Mizrachi Shul –all these synagogues and now only one hundred Jews in Krakow!!!  As best as I can determine there were approximately 64,000 Jews in Krakow before the Nazi invasion of 1939, and now there are a hundred.  It is sobering to think of such loss of life.  
       I have been twice to Auschwitz I (the work camp) and Auschwitz Birkenau (the extermination camp) on the edge of Krakow. One should never go to these places more than once.  The camps are seared into your memory.  There was absolutely nothing that I saw the second time that I had not remembered in horrid detail from my first visit.  We must ask ourselves how this sort of hatred could have existed.  We must ask ourselves why we failed as Christians and as a Church to protest it.  anyone who says it could not happen again, is either naïve or disingenuous.  It may not be the Jews, but it could be anyone.  Hatred and prejudice run strong in cultures under economic or political stress.  At some point I want to do some entries on Catholicism and anti-semitism as well as Catholicism and the Third Reich.  The stories are very complex.  But for today, I just think of the tens of thousands of ghosts of Kazimierz—the children, the women, the old men, the pregnant, the ill, the poor and the rich, the believers and the non-believers—whose lives and heritage were snuffed out.   

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