My first full day in Krakow. After conking out last night at 7:30 p.m., I found myself waking up at 10:15 a.m. I must have really been wiped out. I slept like a baby. My host has a spare bedroom which is where I stay and I’m sleeping on a very large futon which is quite comfortable. Maybe I need to stay awake for 34 hours straight more often? Or get a futon?
Anyway, under dark gray skies I left for the Krakow Main Square around 11:00 a.m. Once I arrived, I pulled out my map and started walking. I immediately headed to the Jewish Quarter. I have no idea if there is any Jewish blood in our family, but I thought I might as well see what I can find out, initially. I found an English-speaking woman, Paulina, in a Jewish history museum and told her an abbreviated version of my story. She said she knew exactly who I should see.
Paulina took me to a genealogist (is that what they’re called?) who was working in a Jewish history bookstore. This lady, Lucy, was very informative in providing me with basic, foundational information on seeking family history. I had heard that Jews kept immaculate records. I had heard it was something that was cultural to help preserve their history. Lucy told me that, in Poland, it was law. It was law not only for Jews but for Christians, too, and the law went back to the early nineteenth century.
I told Lucy about my concerns that records might have been lost or destroyed due to so many wars and conflicts over the past two hundred years. She told me that, on the contrary, records were meticulously kept, not just by the Russians during occupation, but also by the Nazis.
This intrigued me. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. How else would these evil, despotic nations keep control over the people if they didn’t keep exact records of births, deaths, marriages, etc.? It certainly helps when you want people controlled. Or annihilated.
Lucy said any destruction of records that occurred usually happened at the hands of soldiers, apparently indiscriminately. But communities took great pains to protect records. As I imagined, it was the churches who carefully monitored vital statistic information–Christian and Jew.
I mentioned that one tiny town appeared on my radar as a possible location of important information. This town, Dlugosz, has about sixty people, from what I could determine in my research. Would they have archives? She said yes.
She also gave me a website with archival information that might help me. Apparently, it covers every community in Poland and allows one to find people by using names, birthrates, cities, etc. Only thing is, it’s in Polish.
Needless to say, I feel that I have uncovered some major stuff here. Paulina was right; Lucy was invaluable. She was also very generous and sweet and gave me her email address, encouraging me to contact her if I needed more information or had additional questions.
After all this, I opted to get my bearings around Krakow. The city is quite beautiful, much more so than Warsaw, as I had been told. Warsaw was leveled during WWII, but Krakow was spared. The result is a city that is a sight to be hold.
Krakow Main Square is enormous. The only other plaza I can remember that compares in sheer size is the one in Siena, Italy. Ringing the square are restaurants, cafes and shops galore. Many of them have al fresco dining. As I entered the square, about a dozen horse drawn carriages were parked in a line, waiting for passengers. The horses and drivers were decked out in splendid finery. Truly, they eclipsed anything similar I’ve seen throughout Europe.
The streets leading from the Square all had various shops, bakeries and cafes. I have to admit that I am mightily impressed with the pastries of Poland. It’s interesting to see how cuisines differ from country to country. Even pastries differ. Here in Poland there seem to me to be more creams in the pastries. Pardon me for indulging once again in one of my passions.
I fear that eating northern European food is going to result in weight gain. I’ve been encouraged by my loss of weight. I finally got under 200# for the first time in over ten years. Yeah, I’m getting turkey neck, but who cares? If it helps fight off diabetes, no problem.
But…I’m back in a land of meat and potatoes. And, to be honest, I have to admit that I kind of miss it. It’s what I was raised on and, as much as I swoon over Italian cuisine, every so often I have a hankering for a meat loaf, steak or pot roast. A bucket of gravy over Mt. Mashed Potaoes is the perfect coda to such a meal. But, with all the walking, perhaps I can keep the demons of weight gain at bay.
In walking, I stumbled upon the factory where Oskar Schindler employed hundreds of Jews in an effort to save them from being gassed. I plan to take a tour. I also plan to tour Auschwitz. I understand that Auschwitz is even more life-changing than Dachau which I saw in Munich last summer. My host, Aleksander, has strongly urged me to take the Salt Mine tour. Funnily enough, someone in Italy suggested the same thing. I figure I will sightsee on the weekends when I won’t be able to do any physical research.
The Jewish Quarter was much smaller than I envisioned. I guess the word “Quarter” should have tipped me off. I was just thinking of a bigger “Quarter”. There were quite a few rabbis and rabbinical students around and there were a number of Jewish delis and Jewish restaurants in the Quarter.
One young lady walked up to me and proffered onto me an invitation to her restaurant where traditional Polish music would be performed tonight. I decided right then that I would have my dinner there.
At five-thirty I showed up at “Awiw” and treated myself to a nice dinner of Israeli salad which consisted of grilled chicken strips, almonds, cherry tomatoes, mandarin slices, spinach and a ginger dressing. The main course was boar tenderloins with roasted potatoes. The vegetable consisted of roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and zucchini. For dessert I had a scoop of chocolate and vanilla ice cream in a pool of Amaretto topped with whipped cream. I ended with a Polish coffee which was coffee topped with whipped cream with honey and cherry vodka added. After paying the bill, the waiter gave me a small glass of cherry vodka to savor. Oh yeah, the music was good, too.
What was I saying about gaining weight? Oh well, at least Poland is dirt cheap! Hmm, that might exacerbate the food problem. If it’s too inexpensive, I’ll probably eat my way to Warsaw. I could create more destruction than the Russian army.
After dinner I had planned to attend a Vivaldi concert in an old church. Big banners advertised “Vivaldi Four Seasons Tonight”. Dinner ended early and I had time to make it to the church. Nothing. I’m assuming someone forgot to take the signs down. Before I leave this country I’m going to make sure I attend some cultural events–preferably concerts. Chamber music, classical music, opera (NOT like the cat-slaughtering shrieking I experienced in Sicily), I don’t care. There is something about attending a Brahms or Bach concert in Europe that sweeps exhilaration through one’s soul.
I walked back to the tram stop and marveled at the Square, lit up beautifully. Every city truly does have its own magic and its own flavor. And their flavors are delicious.
As I made my way to the station, three different people approached me. The first was a man who invited me to visit a “gentleman’s club”. I knew what he was referring to and I politely said no. The next two people, women, didn’t believe in euphemisms. ‘You wanna see strippers, sir?”, they inquired. “We got lesbians”.
I giggled like a pre-teen all the way to the tram. It had been a full day.
The next two days are supposed to be rainy and cold. I’ve decided to stay inside rather than freeze my buns off loping through town. I’m going to check out this voluminous archival website and see what I can find. It’s going to be daunting. Aleksander has suggested that I consider hiring an archivist which is a tempting thought. He or she would know how to maneuver the system better than I would. I’ll see what I find the next couple of days.