Our second day in Kraków was beyond impactful, so I’ll be splitting it up into two separate blog posts. That being said, we began the first part of our second day in Kraków walking through the city’s Jewish center.
In 1902, Helena Rubinstein revolutionized the world of cosmetics with her new personalized and innovative beauty regime. Because of her, there is now skin type classification (1910), and she helped create the first moisturizing, anti-acne and sun care.. Not to mention, she offered women the first waterproof mascara (1938) and the first modern mascara (1958) (http://www.loreal.com). Elizabeth Arden opened her first spa on Fifth Avenue and began to build one of the world’s first
global beauty brands (http://www.elizabetharden.com). So Helena Rubinstein lived in the house pictured below, and apparently her husband cheated on her with Elizabeth Arden. The ongoing joke of the city is that you can’t cheat on someone in the same industry because everyone’s bound to find out eventually.
During the Holocaust, the Germans actually took over the square, and lived here. There is a commemorative memorial pictured below in honor of the people from the city who were killed as a result of the atrocities.
We then traveled to the factory which belonged to Oskar Shindler, which is more famously known from the movie, Shindler’s List. Oskar Schindler arrived to Kraków hot on the heels of the German invasion in September 1939. As a member of the Nazi party and an agent of the German military intelligence he managed to appropriate the factory which had been set up by a group of Jewish businessmen in 1937. Kraków’s two Jewish proprietors who became dependent on Schindler, Abraham Bankier and Samuel Wiener, provided him with necessary capital. Under Schindler’s control the plant continued to produce cookware and varied metal vessels, primarily for the German army. He reduced costs by replacing the original Polish staff with cheap labor from the Kraków Jewish ghetto the Nazis organized not far from Schindler’s factory. When Germans liquidated the ghetto in 1943 and moved the remaining Jews to the Plaszow concentration camp, Schindler opened its branch on the premises of his factory complete with barbed-wire fences and watchtowers. In the face of the Soviet Red Army’s advances, Schindler relocated, and with the blessing of the German authorities, his munitions business and its workforce in the late 1944 to the branch of Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp in Bohemia’s Brunnlitz. Thanks to Oskar Schindler, about 1,200 Jewish prisoners from Kraków were liberated by the Soviets on May 8, 1945 (http://www.krakow-info.com).
The gate at Schindler’s Factory is the original one from when the factory was in use during the Holocaust, and the outside walls are covered with pictures of the Jewish survivors that Oskar Schindler saved. Nearby, there is also a memorial for air force members who were killed by the Germans during the war as well.
As we left Schindler’s Factory, we passed Lover’s Bridge, which was filled with combination locks, since couples put locks on the bridge to honor their love for one another. We then came across a second bridge shown in the movie Schindler’s List, which was reconstructed after facing damages during the Holocaust to look like it originally was before the war..
Our next stop was to Wawel Royal Castle that ranges back to the 11th century. Upon walking through the Wawel Castle, we entered the Wawel Cathedral, a Roman Cathedral over 900 years old, containing sarcophaguses of various kings. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take pictures inside the Cathedral, but the outside area was also an incredible sight. After walking through the breathtaking Cathedral, we came across a large courtyard that housed Sigismund III Vasa, the King of Poland from 1587-1632. In 1595, a fire burned down one of the castle’s wings. Sigismund III Vasa moved to Warsaw shortly after, which is when Warsaw became the capital of Poland. The people of Kraków begged him to return but he refused. The joke of the town is that he was probably too embarrassed to return since he could have been the one who started the first since it came from the castle corner containing his alchemy studio.
After our morning tour, we were given two hours for lunch, which we spent in Kraków Square, a quaint little square containing churches, restaurants, and both an indoor and outdoor marketplace with small crafts custom to the area. It is actually the largest medieval town square in Europe that is accessible via 11 streets and two passages (http://planetden.com/nature/visit-oldest-city-poland-krakow-rtr). In the square, there are two tours of St. Mary’s, which are both different heights. There is a bugle call played from the taller tower–Hejnalica, and a church bell known as Półzygmunt that hangs in the lower tower (http://cracow.travel). Legend has it that the two towers were built by brothers who were competing over the size of their own tower. In the heat of the competition, one brother stabbed the other, and accidentally killed him, so he went to the top of his tower and jumped off, which killed him instantaneously. For this reason, the buildings were never evened in size. And in case you were wondering, we had more peirogis for lunch, this time spinach and potato.
I also included a picture of Żubrówka, more commonly known as Bison Grass Vodka, because the vodka is infused with bison grass. This Polish made vodka was a favorite drink of Polish nobility, and is quite popular with the locals as well. We found a local liquor store where we were able to sample the vodka, and it was surprisingly good. As they say in Polish, “Na zdrowie,” or Cheers!
Our afternoon tour consisted of visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which will be written as a separate post.