Kazimierz is the historic Jewish Quarter of Krakow, now a jumble of indie galleries, quirky shops, vintage clothing stores and bars that range from hip cocktail dens to shabby-chic spaces. Established in 1335, and named after its founder, King Kazimierz the Great, Kazimierz was an independent city for many centuries. It was also home to one of the largest congregation of Jews in Poland and was seen by many as a hub for Jewish life in Europe. Situated just south of Old Town, Kazimierz thrived economically thanks to its many Jewish merchants and the cultural values of the community thrived alongside the businesses.
The Jews of Kazimierz were a real part of Poland, they endured the invasions and political changes throughout the centuries alongside their non-Jewish neighbors. By the time World War II began, there were roughly 64,000 Jews living in Kraków, including 70% of Kazimierz’s residents. The Nazi occupation saw a systematic destruction of Kazimierz’s Jewish population and at the end of the war, less than 4,000 Krakówian Jews had survived in. Jewish life in Kazimierz would be forever changed. The period after World War II was not easy. The community was small and struggled to rebuild. During the communist era, Kazimierz became a seedy district that was derelict and full of despair. Many buildings and historically significant sites were simply left to fall apart. Just a few years after the communist era ended, the town of Kazimierz was rediscovered.
Thanks to the fall of the communist regime and the global attention that Speilberg’s Schindler’s List brought to the region, Kazimierz entered a period of growth and revival. Kazimierz had long been the home of many Jewish synagogues and institutions. Although much of that changed since the war, today the town boasts seven synagogues and several buildings that were once used as private prayer spaces. There are also two Jewish cemeteries, one of which is the historically-significant Old Jewish Cemetery, the burial site to many famous Jews through history.
Today’s Jewish community of Kraków is small but active and growing. Like in the past, it’s nestled in the heart of Kazimierz, and is filled with cafes, galleries, shops and a rich, vibrant culture and history. It is a huge tourist draw for non-Jews and Jews alike. Today, the entire town of Kazimierz is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.