Krakow Jews History
Late in 2004, the Krakow Jewish Community celebrated its anniversary. The oldest document confirming the existence of the Community dates back to 1304 (although the Jewish Community started settling down in that place long before that). Initially, however, the Jews of Krakow did not dwell in Kazimierz but within the ramparts of Krakow: today’s St. Anne (Świętej-Anny) Street, the main university quarter axis, was referred to as Judengasse in the Middle Ages. Jewish families held tenement houses, now located within what is called the Collegium Maius nowadays. One has to bear in mind that in the Early Middle (Dark) Ages, there was no separate Jewish quarter in Krakow, and Christians lived side by side with Jews. Of great interest is also the name of a Krakow street which is situated quite far from the city centre but being of a university nature – ‘Kawiory’, the name which seemingly originated from Hebrew and suggested a possibility that a Jewish cemetery could be situated there many years before.
There is a legend according to which in 1335 King Casimir the Great founded the town of Kazimierz for his Jewish lover Esther of Opoczno. However, this ruler built the town for Christian people, remembering of the trouble his father had had with the inhabitants of the nearby Krakow. A Jewish community must have been living there since the very beginning, as the sources tell us of a Jewish gate, bathhouse and marketplace. Most Jews, however, settled there after 1495. Christians made King Jan Olbracht banish Jews out of Krakow, as they had been accused of setting fire to the town which resulted in the destruction of the University church. After their banishment, they settled in the northern quarter of Kazimierz; as Michał Miechowita, a chronicler of that time, wrote: “at the wall near St. Laurent’s church, where Casimir the Second, King of Poland, had built cells for the college and reading rooms” (NB: there are no physical traces which would testify that the University was indeed supposed to be erected there). Kazimierz, where both Jews and Christians lived, was an independent town till 1800.
Soon afterwards European Jews started frequently visiting Kazimierz. Most of them were Ashkenazim, yet Sephardim also happened to appear in the first immigrating groups (including those driven out of Spain in 1492).
In the centre of the Oppidum Iudaeorum, there appeared Szeroka [Broad] Street. Its southern point is closed by the Old Synagogue, which is one of the seven synagogues in Kazimierz and is the oldest existing synagogue in Poland. Most probably it was built at the end of the 15 th century, and its two-nave form shows us from where Jews were arriving in Krakow: similar synagogues were being built at that time in Worms or Ratisbone. The Kazimierz synagogue was rebuilt or reconstructed several times: by the Italian architect Matteo Gucci after the fire of 1557 or by Zygmunt Hendel in 1904. In 1936 the first Jewish Museum of Krakow was opened. Among its exhibits were, inter alia, the synagogue fabrics and silverware. In 1939, Nazis turned the synagogue into storerooms and a locksmith’s warehouse. The fascists plundered it, having taken away bars, doors, money boxes, balustrades, and, first of all, particularly beautiful Gothic-style Bimah created at the Renaissance times. Later, in 1951, it was proposed to turn the building into the Museum of Jewish History and Culture. In 1958, in turn, the Mosaic Denomination Congregation passed on the Old Synagogue to the Krakow Historical Museum; in 1961, the Judaic exhibition was opened at the Museum.
The second synagogue built in Kazimierz dates back to the times when the Jewish town, under the patronage of the Jagellon state, was flourishing. The Remu Synagogue (1558) owes its existence to Isserleso ben Joseph, grandson of Moses Auerbach, who was an émigré from Ratisbone and acted as a royal banker. Isserles built the synagogue upon the consent of King Sigismund II Augustus for his son Moses Isserles, nicknamed Remu (died in 1572), who was Rabbi of Krakow. This outstanding expert on Maimonides and Aristotle, advocate of the so-called practical Kabbalah, wrote several theological and philosophical works and became famous for his commentary titled Mappa (in Hebrew ‘Tablecloth’). Pilgrims still frequently come to his grave which is situated in the old Jewish cemetery, near the synagogue. Moses Isserles’ grave has a Hebrew inscription on it: “No greater Moses has ever been born since Moses’ time, up until Moses’ time”. It is not clear enough who Remu is compared with: whether with Moses who was to drive the Jews out of Egypt, or perhaps with Maimonides. The cemetery is the place where some outstanding citizens of Jewish Kazimierz are buried, among them: Mordechai Saba, called ‘Singer’ (died in 1576), Head of the Krakow Yeshivah, a grammarian, preacher, and Kabbalist; Eliezer Ashkenazi (died in 1585), a physician; Isaac Prostitz (died in 1613), a printer of Hebrew books; or Isaac Yakubovich, called ‘Ayzik’ or ‘Yekeles’ (died in 1653), a financier, merchant, and Elder of the Krakow Jewish Community.
Another synagogue of Kazimierz is associated with Isaac Yakubovich and is called the Ayzik (or Isaac) Synagogue. King Władysław IV Vasa granted his consent to Rabbi Yekeles to build the synagogue; however, protests of Lateran Canons, managing a nearby Corpus Christi Church, delayed the project for a couple of years, so it was eventually completed by 1644. It is said that this particular synagogue was once Kazimierz’s richest. Unfortunately, it was plundered twice: first, by Swedish invaders during the ‘Flood’ times (the War of 1655-1658 inhibited the development of the whole town of Kazimierz), and then by Germans during World War II. When in 1990’s the monument preservation works were completed, a fund was created to take care of the synagogue as well as to promote the history of Krakow Jews. Also, there is an interesting legend connected with the Ayzik Synagogue. Each night Rabbi Yekeles had the same dream about a treasure hidden under the Carl’s Bridge in Prague. So, the Jew from Krakow went there on foot and started looking for the treasure at night. A dweller of Prague asked him what he was doing there. Ayzik told him his dream, which the Prague Jew laughed at and told the man from Krakow his own story, which came to him in a dream every night: it was also about a treasure, hidden in a stove in a Jewish house located in Kazimierz. However, the man from Prague did not lose his head at that and just stayed at home. But wise Isaac went back to Krakow right away, to his place, where, in his stove, he eventually found a treasure on which he built the synagogue.
An entirely different story is connected with another Kazimierz synagogue, named Tempel which is rather unusual for the Jewish tradition. It was built thanks to the efforts of the Religious-and-Civilisation Association in 1860-1862, at the time when Kazimierz was already part of Krakow and was situated within its administrative limits. At that time, Kazimierz was losing its importance, which was particularly noticeable from 1867, the year when the Austro-Hungarian constitution gave Jews the right to decide where they wanted to live. Some of them, more successful and better assimilated ones, would move to more comfortable quarters. The synagogue’s architecture merged the elements of neo-Gothic, neo-Renaissance and Moorish styles, and was the meeting point of the local progressive community. Before the war, one could often meet Osias Thon (1870-1936) there who was born in Lvov and was the Community’s Rabbi, one of the major Zionist leaders in Poland and a Member of the Parliament (Sejm).
Like some Krakow inhabitants of that time, Thon was buried in the new Jewish cemetery in Miodowa St. Some famous people were buried in this cemetery, among them Maurycy Gottlieb (1856-1879), a painter and student of Jan Matejko, who died young, and Józef Sare (1850-1929), engineer and Deputy Lord Mayor of the Town of Krakow.
Just before World War II, a little more than 60,000 Jews lived in Krakow, making up 25% of all the Krakow inhabitants. At the time, there were two more Jewish cemeteries in Krakow, in the Podgórze area. But only one tombstone survived – the one of Jacob Abrahamer who died in 1932. A Nazi labour camp was to be built at the territory of those cemeteries, which later was to be turned into the concentration camp of Płaszów.
The Nazi invaders started persecuting Krakow Jews from the very beginning of the occupation: from December 1, 1939, Jews were supposed to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David; those, refusing to wear it, were sentenced to death. The Jews’ bank accounts were blocked; the Jews were deprived of retirement benefits and other pensions; special address registration cards were introduced; Jewish schools were closed; contacts with non-Jews were gradually forbidden (Jewish doctors were not supposed to treat ‘Aryans’, lawyers were banned to appear in courts); and first instances of property robberies occurred. The invaders’ orders were to be delivered through the Judenrat, presided by Professor Marek Bieberstein who, at any expense, tried to protect the Jewish community from the growing persecution. On April 12, 1940, Governor Hans Frank announced: “Krakow has to become the town most cleansed off of Jews in the General-Gouvernement”. At the same time a series of displacements commenced, as a result of which 32,000 Jews left Krakow. Only the Jews, granted a special permission, were allowed to stay. The Judenrat managed to bribe the German officials, as a result of which more than 15,000 Jews could stay in the town (which exceeded the usual number of people allowed to stay by the occupation authorities). On March 3, 1941, a decision to build a ghetto in Krakow was made (all in all, there were 400 such ghettos all around Poland, while the first one in the General-Gouvernement territory was created as early as October 1939). The ghetto was built on the right bank of the Vistula, in Podgórze, one of the town’s poorest quarters, separated from the rest of the town by the river and lime rocks, and located very close to the town’s pre-war industrial zone. The Jews were supposed to come to the ghetto by March 30, 1941; this date marked the end of the ancient Jewish town of Kazimierz. The Jews were now crammed in a small part of Podgórze quarter: that 20-hectare land hosted 320 houses, mostly bungalow-like or two-storied ones. The ghetto was surrounded by a matzeva- (i.e. tombstone-) shaped wall (two fragments of which have survived: one in Lwowska St. and one in Limanowskiego St.). A tram line was set through that enclosed territory. Hunger and various diseases were omnipresent: in 1941 alone, a total of 596 persons died in the ghetto, the respective number for 1942 being 750. The Resistance Movement was active in the ghetto. A clandestine organisation called Sneh was set-up. One of its activists was Dolek (Adolf) Liebeskind, who later became one of the leaders of the Jewish Fighting Organisation (ŻOB); he was executed in December, 1942. In the summer of 1942, the Krakow branch of ŻOB had a few dozen members in it. The Organisation’s most famous action, supported by fighters from Warsaw, was the attack on the German ‘Cyganeria’ cafe at Szpitalna St.
On March 13, 1942, the first dispatch of Jews from Krakow departed for Belzec, one of the six extermination camps established by the Nazis. It was there that a majority of Krakow Jews perished (along with a few hundred Roma people). The arriving people were welcomed by a Jewish orchestra from Krakow, playing German marches. Initially, the inmates were killed with an insecticidal gas, as lice carriers.
From June 3, the administration of the Krakow ghetto was handed over to the Gestapo. A few days later the ‘June Action’ started, with 7,000 evacuated to Belzec and a few hundred murdered on the spot. The ghetto, where 12,000 inhabitants still remained, was subsequently diminished. A similar action was repeated on October 28, 1942: the building at 30 Rękawka Street, then the infectious diseases hospital, still bears bullet traces, as it was there that the sick and the elderly were executed by a firing squad. The men personally responsible for the massacres at the Krakow ghetto were, among others, Richard Wendler, the Krakow District Governor, and Julian Schörner, Krakow District’s SS and Police Chief.
On December 6, 1943, the ‘enclosed quarter’ area was divided into two sections: ‘A’ – for those able to work, and ‘B’ – for those unable to work, the elderly, and sick people. Those who worked were soon to be moved into the camp at Płaszów, then under construction (its commander being Amon Goeth). On March 13, the German police entered the ghetto, supported by Ukrainian forces. The men were separated from their women, children from their mothers. A heap was made of more than a hundred babies wrapped in pillows – and all were shot dead. In the Zgoda (‘Concord’) Square, the Krakow Jews’ torture place, some 2,000 Jews were killed then. An eyewitness to the Holocaust was Tadeusz Pankiewicz, later mentioned as one of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, who at that time owned the ghetto’s only drugstore, ‘Pod Orłem’ (‘The Eagle’), at 18 Zgody Sq. (a small museum commemorating the extermination of Krakow Jews is housed there today).
Six thousand Jews were driven to Płaszów. From there on, the road could only lead them to either Birkenau or Treblinka. The last dispatch departed to Oświęcim (Auschwitz) on January 15, 1945 – i.e. two days before the Red Army moved in.
Ten per cent of the Jewish dwellers of the pre-war Krakow survived the war. A considerable number of those had successfully sought refuge thanks to Oskar Schindler. Several of those survivors left for good because of the pogrom which occurred in Kazimierz in August, 1945. In the already-by-then communist Poland, remembrance of Krakow’s Jewish past became a social taboo.
Yet it did return, after the 1989 breakthrough, as testified by the annually held Jewish Culture Festival, created by Janusz Makuch, and also owing to the activities of such institutions as the Centre for Jewish Culture at Kazimierz, and the Judaica Foundation. Although the Jewish Denominational Commune of today’s Krakow consists of 150 people, one can see the Jewish life revive nowadays: quite symbolically a team led by Rabbi Sacha Pečaric and Ms. Ewa Gordon have, for a few years now, been busy preparing a comprehensive translation of the Torah into Polish – the first such edition in the post-war Poland.
SOME WRITERS ON THE PRE-WAR KAZIMIERZ:
Rafael F. Scharf:
You go across Grodzka and Stradom Streets, where the ‘Warszawa’ [‘Warsaw’] cinema is, which is memorable as a scene of political rallies: Włodzimierz Zhabotynski was delivering his speech there, following the sentence pronounced on Arlosoroff’s assassination in Palestine. You will cross Dietla Street, that broad highway going from Grzegórzki up to the Vistula, and this will lead you straight into the heart of what was the Jewish [quarter of] Kazimierz. The Thorn restaurant was here; Süsser’s tenement house was there – the one that could serve as a model for the Gomulicki poem where “on the balconies’ galleries, bedclothes were airing out, the unpleasant smell of fish being fried was flowing out of the kitchen, and in the corner there, two acacia trees were dying of consumption pulmonary”. Into that house’s backyard, crowds of people were turning out to hold protest meetings (using any pretext at hand). There were no microphones, so the speakers were screaming to tear off their lungs, standing on the porch, speaking against the limitations in emigration to Palestine; then, against the Pristor Law aimed at cancelling ritual slaughter; and, against the pogrom at Przytyk; again, against the row Doboszyński triggered at Myślenice ....
Just venture and plunge into that maze of tiny streets, alleys and backstreets bearing the names from the Old Testament: Jacob, Joseph, Isaac, Esther. And here, in Szeroka [‘Broad’] Street, there was a second-hand market, which could be named the ‘mother of all second-hand markets’. And there again, the famous Remu synagogue, so named to the honour of the great Krakow-based rabbi and learned man named Moses Isserles, and, the grand ‘Alterschul’ – the Old Synagogue.
At the intersection of Brzozowa and Podbrzezie Streets (no smell of trees, but instead, the aroma of fresh bread baked at Mr. Beigel’s bakery was wafting up there), a school was located: the Elementary School and the Hebrew Middle School, to name it in full. A few years ago, it fell to my lot that I unveiled the commemorative plaques, in Polish and in Hebrew, to remind those passing by that something Jewish once used to be in that place.
This was namely an educational institution following a secular syllabus, as in force for state junior high (or middle) schools. In addition, opportunity to learn Judaistic subjects was provided – including a study of the Bible, and literary history in the Hebrew language. Students were drifting toward the school from faraway locations such as Dębniki, Prądnik, Krowodrza, or even from as far as Wieliczka. The fees were rather low, most students enjoyed some discounts or even exemptions, and no-one would have been sent away empty-handed. The alumni, who have over the years passed through the school’s gate, cherished true love for it. It was an oasis where one could find an outlet for his or her energy, or even learn something, illusionarily believing that the world has been, and will remain, benevolent.
In Miodowa Street, there was the so-called Tempel, a progressive synagogue, where the preacher was the esteemed Doctor Osias Thon, Parliamentary Member, chair of the Parliamentary Jewish MPs Circle, and a Zionist leader. Not far from there, other synagogues were situated: Popper’s, Kup’s, Ayzik’s, and the High one. Building No. 7 at Orzeszkowej Street housed the editorial board and a printing house of ‘Nowy Dziennik’ which (just as ‘Chwila’ of Lvov or ‘Nasz Przegląd’ in Warsaw) was a Jewish daily newspaper in the Polish language – providing to a majority of its readers the chief and irreplaceable source of information about what was happening in Poland, in Palestine, and all over the world. The circulation was growing whenever an event was occurring that was especially moving for the community. In 1924/1925, a court case was held in Lvov against Steiger, a Jew accused of having made an attempt on President Wojciechowski’s life. He was defended by illustrious representatives of the Bar, including Nathan Loewenstein and Leib Landau (and also including non-Jewish solicitors, such as Grek or Szurley). Their deductions and speeches were keeping the reading public in suspense. In defiance of the clear manipulation of the authorities who had contrived the case, Steiger was acquitted, to a great relief of the Jewish society which felt trashed, and indeed threatened, with the affair.
In Bocheńska Street, a Jewish theatre was located where actor troupes, including the famous ‘Vilna Troupe’ with Jonas Turkov, staged plays by Jewish authors such as Perec, Sholem Aleichem, Goldfaden, Ansky. Round the corner, at Skawińska St., was the seat of the Kahal – the Jewish commune board, as well as the Jewish Gymnastics Society. One of the Jewish life hubs was the sports ground ‘Maccabi’ where in the summer football matches were held, then replaced by a slide in winter. The ‘Maccabi’ sports club which hosted a football section (the team has once defeated Cracovia, 1:0, which happened a long time ago, but ‘O thou, year memorable! Who’s seen thee in country ours?’. The club had sections for all the domains of sport, women athletes could boast themselves with glorious results, and the water polo section held the Polish Championship. On national holidays, as well as on Lag ba-’Omer, the Jewish holiday (celebrated on the eighteenth day of the month of Lyar), the Hebrew Middle School orchestra (where my elder brother Kazio was the principal ‘tambour-major’), preceded by a white-and-blue banner, formed a parade that marched to the sports field where gymnastic shows and sportive contests featuring school students were held. Not far from there, the Hashomer Hatzair office could be found – that being an extreme left-wing youth organisation, verging on communism, the borderline being hardly visible. Various organisations of working-class youth or students, among them Hashahar, Akiba, Gordonia, Massada, and Betar, were clustered in many offices there in Kazimierz.
As some of those young people were getting educated and sought outlets where to discharge their ideological energy, others were spending hours sitting at cafes (and you could see me doing both): at ‘Feniks’, ‘Bisanz’s’, ‘Cyganeria’ (which became famous under the Nazi occupation for a Jewish clandestine organisation’s attack on German officers there). My favourite cafe, though, was ‘Jama Michalika’ which had once housed the ‘Zielony Balonik’ (‘Little Green Balloon’) cabaret that produced the invaluable Słówka [‘Words’] by Żeleński-‘Boy’. I spent hours and hours there, seated on a plush settee; it seems to me that it was sprinkled with tears of that girl whom I was ‘going out with’, as they all said at that time (I wasn’t good to her, which I regret).
Now I have to mention Szpitalna Street which, although located outside of the Kazimierz area, was a Jewish street, in a sense. Not only because a synagogue existed there, but also for the sake of its numerous antiquarian bookshops, owned by men named Taffet or Seiden – trading old books, as was the case with boot leather stitcher’s or watchmaker’s trade, it was almost exclusively a Jewish domain. At the beginning of each school year, a real carnival took place there – crowds of school or university students were rolling by the pavement and the roadway, selling, buying, and exchanging, on a split-the-difference basis [in Polish, literally, the ‘Krakow bargaining’], their last year’s textbooks into ‘new’ ones, and having a whale of time.
Dietla Street, along both sides of those ‘worse’ Commons, had more than a hundred tenement houses to its credit: from the Vistula up to the railroad flyover. It was there that a few thousand Jewish families were cooped up (mine included, for some time). When I cross that street, it seems to me that I can remember all those people by their faces and names, those Einhorns, Johanes’s, Luftglas’s, Lipschützs, Bloeders, Sonntags, Fallmans, Ohrensteins, Rakowers, Weisbrods, Holzers – reaching as far as Schneiders, that is, those associated with ‘Makkabi’ and the soda water; all those who, to name it after [Jerzy] Ficowski, were ‘caught red-handed, in that they lived’.
(From a collection of essays titled “Co mnie i Tobie Polsko...”
[‘What’s for me and what’s for you, Poland ....’])
Rafael ‘Felek’ Scharf (1914-2004) graduated from the Krakow Hebrew Middle School and from the Department of Law, Jagiellonian University. In 1932, he left for England and fought in World War II as a member of the British Army. Later, he was active on the staff of a unit preparing trials for war criminals. He co-founded The Jewish Quarterly, the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies in Oxford, and the Centre for Jewish Culture in Kazimierz, Krakow. He was a member of the editorial board of the ‘Polin’ annual. For several years, he served as Deputy Chairman for the International ‘Janusz Korczak’ Association. Awarded with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit for the Republic of Poland.
In the night, I watch groups of men leaving the tight, brilliantly illuminated prayer houses in the narrow streets of Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter: wearing their tie shoes, white stockings, gigantic fur hats hanging loose to their ears, or streimels. My companion is telling stories, and I graspingly absorb them, those stories on Berishel, a weird old man whom you may come across in the street: he is hirsute like a forest man. He once used to behave in a freer manner, but now, he doesn’t eat any meat, he wears prayerful phylacteries and a tallith, and puts stones into his shoes. People are afraid of him.
Now, I’m entering an old synagogue; the prayer is over. It once used to be ‘Emperor Casimir’s’ library; before then, I spotted a plaque in the street: Casimir is seated as an angel, old Jews with the Torah giving thanks to him for his having granted them a consent for settling down in Krakow. In the polisch, the synagogue’s vestibule, a chain is hanged on the wall, for those sentenced by the judge, a Rabbi. There is a pillory too, by which they were spitted on: theology as a practical knowledge, like in a book from the Jagiellonian Library. There is also a ‘guardians of the morning’ association: old men gathering at the crack of dawn. In the morning, before any of them enters, he would knock thrice on the door; in the night, in the shul, it’s ghosts that pray. No-one is supposed to pass by that place by night. Once, a man broke that ban; he was told to enter, so that he read out the Torah. Nothing happened to him, but as he was exiting, they told him not to look back. One man is telling me a story on the books they read in the prayer house, including the Kabbalah. They are taught it at a late stage. One such individual was too young, he was but sixteen, and yet he started reading his Kabbalah. He departed from the others, and just read and read it. He stopped saying anything, and ate but bread and salt. He did not say a word to his own mother. Soon, he died. His father was a rabbi who wrote commentaries on Talmud. ‘Mysteries of the world’ are comprised in that Kabbalah. Angels guarding each human being are mentioned there. Kabbalists would argue over each single word in the Torah; they’d tell you what each letter stands for, when the Messiah is due to appear; they would tell you, too, of evil angels, of Samiel and his spouse Malkashvu. All that I can now hear from those people.
It is known that thirty-six tsaddiks are there. Those are not rabbis but anonymous just men amongst their people. They must not reveal themselves as such, and no-one could possibly guess who they are; they could well be some shoemakers, or tailors. And the world rests on those tacit hiding thirty-six just men. Without them, the world would collapse. When one of them dies, another one would be born. Once, the great Polish Queen Jadwiga wished to destroy the Jews. And the Jews were helpless. Then, their major rabbi addressed the heavens, and the heavens sent down a tsaddik. But the tsaddik did not want to come to light. At last, as the poor men urged and urged him, he gave in. He went to the royal court, and said: ‘Reach into your pockets, each of you, so each of you can find whatever he or she wishes to.’ And it so happened, indeed. But Jadwiga drew a snake out of her pocket, and the snake wound around her body. Then she started begging the tsaddik and asking him to tell her, why. And he said, ‘This has happened so resulting from what you have decided.’ Having heard that statement, Jadwiga cancelled her orders, and the snake disappeared.
My guide, when he was strolling with me along the streets, started complaining. A young girl, an acquaintance of his, got lost a week ago. So clever she was, and so laborious. A week ago, he could still see her, at a lecture they attended. She was joyous; she was about to pay a visit to someone, after the lecture. For no reason whatsoever, she asked whether, and how, you throw a funeral to someone who would take his or her own life. And then, she has not appeared back home. Her parents believe she was kidnapped by a white-slave trafficker. A nice girl, she, although not too tall and not quite well developed physically. Yet her mind was vivid, and she was so merry. How can I comfort him, though?
I’m walking across a wide market, in front of King Casimir’s synagogue. The market is surrounded by rotten huts. One of its sections is fenced with a wall, and enclosed. This is an old cemetery. Local people tell one another stories of a house which used to be there. A wedding was celebrated there, on a Friday. The celebration extended till the holy Sabbath. All of a sudden, everything there vanished off the face of the earth, the whole house with the newlyweds and their wedding party guests. Remu the great rabbi was living in that square, Moses Isserles was his name. His hut can still be seen there; he lived in it more than two hundred years ago, and he lies buried in the old cemetery. He was thirty-three of age; he wrote thirty-three books; and, he died on a Lag ba-’Omer, thirty-three days past the Shavuot holiday.
(From his “Reise in Polen”)
Alfred Döblin (1878-1957), a medical doctor by profession, practising psychiatry, he is primarily known as a writer and journalist, a leading representative of the German Expressionist movement, and author of the novel “Berlin Alexanderplatz” [Alexanderplatz, Berlin], a metropolitan epic story. Encouraged by German Zionist movement representatives, he travelled across Poland in 1924, which resulted in his reportage masterpiece titled “Reise in Polen” (“Journey to Poland”, 1926).
Fare you well, Krakow mine!
The cart’s waiting for me in front of my house,
My enemy has turned me into an exile,
They drive me out of my town; me, a dog.
Fare you well, Krakow mine!
Your land is holy,
And parents mine dream through your ground.
I am not to be lied to rest with them,
This is not part of my lot;
I am not aware of where my grave is to be.
(Blejb gesund mir, Kroke)
Mordechai Gebirtig (1877-1942) was a carpenter who was primarily known as a poet writing in Yiddish, the last Jewish folk bard. He made his debut in 1905 in Socjał-Demokrat, a Jewish periodical issued in Krakow. Some of his works were staged by Jewish theatres. He published verse volumes: “Fołksmlech” (“Folk-styled”, 1920) and “Mayne Lider” (“My songs”, 1936). His song “S’brent undzer shtetl” (“Our town is burning”) became an anthem for the Jewish resistance movement during the war. He was killed in the Krakow ghetto during the displacement action.