25 February 2022

‘We continue to write
our own, new stories
in the shadow of history’

Visiting Orthodox Jews in front of the ‘Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz’ Jewish-style café (Photograph © Jerzy Ochonski)

Patrick Comerford

When I was visiting Auschwitz some years ago, I stayed for the best part of a week in Krakow’s old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, visiting the surviving synagogues, the remaining Jewish graveyards, museums, shops and restaurants.

Kazimierz has the most extensive and intact collection of Jewish built heritage in central Europe, including seven synagogues and two Jewish cemeteries, as well as prayer houses, tenements, squares, and other infrastructure.

On this Friday evening, I am poring over a new book of photographs — available online — documents the transformation of Kazimierz, from a derelict post-Holocaust ghost-scape to one of the major Jewish heritage attractions in Europe.

The book, Krakowski Kazimierz: Faces & Places, is a collection of photographs by Jerzy Ochoński, who first started visiting Kazimierz and taking photographs there in the late 1970s and continues to document the neighbourhood and its people today.

His new book is a Flipbook and is available free online HERE.

Earlier this week, Jewish Heritage Europe (JHE) described how Ochoński’s earliest photographs show Kazimierz as a depopulated slum, its buildings crumbling and its Jewish heritage all but forgotten except by the tiny remnant Jewish community.

Over the decades, his images show the dramatic changes, particularly with the launch of the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival in 1988 and the post-communist development of Jewish heritage-themed tourism.

‘Over the years, I have taken thousands of photos in Kazimierz – some better, some worse,’ Ochoński has told the website Notes from Poland. ‘I still photograph the district, as I am fascinated with its history and culture, which I am constantly exploring and learning about.’

Ochoński’s images focus on specific buildings, Jewish heritage sites – such as the synagogues and cemeteries – people, and general street scenes. They encompass the Jewish community and other local residents, as well as visitors, ranging from orthodox Jews to revellers at the annual Jewish Culture Festival, to patrons at the popular pubs and cafés that make up the trendy new tourism and nightlife scene.

One two-page spread in the book contrasts the façade of the 19th century Tempel synagogue in 1985, with the same façade 30 years later — the synagogue underwent a full restoration in the 1990s.

Jakub Nowakowski, the Director of the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kazimierz, says in the foreword that the photographs bring home that Kazimierz is a place full of complexities and nuance that reflect its layers of history.

He writes, ‘It’s a complicated place. It’s a place people come to visit, sometimes travelling a long way to do so. But it’s also a place from which, for decades, people fled. It’s a place where people live, where people use to live and where people dream of living […]

‘But Kazimierz is not all about absences.

‘We continue to write our own, new stories in the shadow of the history of the Kazimierz Jews. Sometimes these stories are linked to the past and occasionally they have an inextricable connect with it [….] More often than not, however, these stories have nothing in common with this Jewish world. they fill the space with their voices, they reimagine it and they write their own stories.’

Click HERE to view the book online

Click HERE to read the article on Notes from Poland.

Shabbat Shalom

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