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A moving episode in Kraków

14 September 2018

Last week I spent a few days in Kraków, attending a major conference on innovation and intellectual property, arranged by the Patent Office of the Republic of Poland. It was an excellent conference and my hosts were most gracious. But that is not what this post is about.

On Friday afternoon, I had some free time which I used to walk around Kazimierz, the neighbourhood which before the war housed many of Kraków’s 80,000 Jews. Most of them perished in the Holocaust, and Kazimierz was neglected by the Communist authorities after 1945. During the post-Communist years, interest in the Jewish heritage has increased markedly (and there has been a bit of a revival of the Jewish community), driven partly by idealism and partly by hard-nosed business considerations; sites such as Schindler’s factory are major tourist attractions, and there are several restaurants in Kazimierz serving Jewish food, putting on Kletzmer music performances and so on.

But I was just randomly walking the streets, looking for signs of the life that was once lived here. Suddenly I was intrigued by this sign on a modest building:

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The paper simply reads “Mordechai Gebirtig poetry workshop”. Intrigued, I looked down through the window. One could see a studio of some sort and some sheets of paper, apparently for the taking:

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Sticking my lens through the bars, I could see that indeed, the inside was a shrine to a local poet:

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The papers in the windowsill provided the explanation of who Gebirtig was and the motives of the people who are fighting hard to maintain his memory. The explanation was provided in Polish and in English, and you can read either using the links below. If you can read Polish, I recommend reading the beautiful poem “I had a home” in the original, Polish version, but the background is more fully explained in the English version (which also contains a translation of the poem).

Polish

English

Coming across this little memorial was the most moving experience of my trip to Kraków.

Update November 2018: by sheer coincidence, I listened to another one of  Gebirtig’s poems today on a CD of Kletzmer music. It is called “Es Brent” (“It’s burning”) and is about a pogrom in 1936. The song is sad and beautiful and foretells the disaster that was to befall Gebirtig’s people just a few years later. You can listen to it (and read the lyrics) here.

 

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4 Comments
  1. Ilan Wajsman permalink

    Brilliant!

  2. Mel Smith permalink

    It can be sad to remember and easier to forget. But we must not forget because remembering warns us of the steps that can lead to a repeat of what is sad to remember. This remembering takes courage.

  3. Joan Oppel permalink

    Nathan – I followed the link with your signature in your iBOB post. Thank you for this bit of history & the links to the poems. Poignant and sadly, a reminder of what happened when prejudice becomes policy. Joan

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