Europe / Krakow / Poland

A self-guided walking tour of Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto

While many visitors to Krakow often think that the city’s Nazi-ruled Jewish Ghetto was located in Kazimierz, it was actually situated in the neighbourhood of Podgórze, which can be found just across the Vistula river. Kazimierz is, in fact, the former Jewish quarter and it acted as the heart of Jewish life in Krakow for more than 500 years. It was from here that the majority of the city’s Jews were expelled from when being forcibly relocated to the Ghetto.

Today, many traces of Podgórze’s dark history can still be seen, and a walking tour around the area will uncover everything from remnants of the original Ghetto walls to the manholes that were used as a means of escape. Uncover the history of Podgórze with this self-guided walking tour of Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto.


Chair in Ghetto Heroes Square Krakow

A brief history of the Krakow Jewish Ghetto:

Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto was established in March 1941, two years after the German occupation of Poland and one year after Hans Frank – Nazi commander of the General Government – ordered the resettlement of Krakow’s Jews in a move to make the capital a “Jew-free city”. This resettlement led to around 52,000 Jews being forced out of the city into labour camps, leaving a population of just 16,000 in Krakow. Those who remained would soon after also be relocated into what would become Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto.

Located on the south bank of the Vistula river, the district of Podgórze was originally a separate town from Krakow, but it was taken over in March 1941 when the Governor of Krakow, Otto Wächter, established a Jewish living quarter “for sanitary and public order reasons”. Around 3,500 non-Jewish residents were forced to move out of the area in order for the city’s remaining 16,000 Jews to be moved in. With more than four times the number of original residents, the Ghetto was extremely overpopulated and only two square metres were assigned to each person, leading to several families being forced to live together in one flat. This worsened in October 1941 when a further 6,000 Jews living in surrounding villages were also relocated to the Ghetto. All of Krakow’s Jewish institutions were also moved into the area and Yiddish became the official language of the Ghetto.

In April 1941, one month after the Ghetto was established, the separation from the rest of the city became even more pronounced when a three-metre-high wall was built around the perimeter. The wall was built using forced Jewish labour and acted a form of mental torture with a design that imitated that of tombstones. Only four gates provided access to the Ghetto and each of them was guarded by German and Polish police on the outside and Jewish guards on the inside.

In January 1942, less than a year after the creation of the Ghetto, a number of high-ranking Nazi Party members and German government officials gathered at a top-secret conference in Wannsee, Berlin and settled upon ‘the final solution to the Jewish question’, known today as the Holocaust. This would lead to the deportation and mass murder of those living in Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto.

Several deportations from the Krakow Ghetto took place in 1942 with thousands of Jews being sent to their death in nearby camps and many more being shot in the streets. Following a number of major deportations that saw tens of thousands of Jews sent to Bełżec death camp, the Ghetto was split into two in preparation for the eventual liquidation. Ghetto A was filled with 6,000 residents who were deemed able to work while Ghetto B was for the elderly, sick and children. In March 1943, during the final liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto, the residents of Ghetto A were deported to Płaszów concentration camp and those in Ghetto B were either killed within the Ghetto or deported to Auschwitz.

Self-guided walking tour of Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto:

Line of metal chairs in Ghetto Heroes Square Krakow

Start: Ghetto Heroes Square

Begin your self-guided walking tour of Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto at Plac Bohaterów Getta/Ghetto Heroes Square. Formerly known as Plac Zgody, this was the largest open space within the Ghetto and it acted as a space for gatherings among the residents. It was, however, also the Ghetto’s main point of deportation and tens of thousands of Jews were sent from here to the nearby death and labour camps.

Despite being renamed to Ghetto Heroes Square in 1948 as a commemoration to those who lost their lives in the Ghetto, the square sat empty as a neglected railway junction for several decades. In 2005, the square received a rightful renovation and a series of metal chairs were installed as a monument to the tragic fate of Krakow’s Jews.

Within Ghetto Heroes Square at the corner building by Piwna street, you’ll also see a commemorative plaque that marks the headquarters of the Jewish Fighting Organisation, which called for a boycott of German orders and was behind several attacks on German soldiers.

A final point of interest within the square is the house numbers two to five on Solna Street, which remain unchanged since the war.

Stop two: Tadeusz Pankiewicz’s Eagle Pharmacy

On the southwest edge of Ghetto Heroes Square, you’ll find Tadeusz Pankiewicz’s Eagle Pharmacy. Having received consent from the Germans to stay open, the Eagle Pharmacy remained in operation throughout the entire period of the Jewish Ghetto and Tadeusz Pankiewicz was the only gentile who lived in the Ghetto as a permanent resident.

The pharmacy soon became a meeting point for the professional, intellectual and artistic elite of the Ghetto with groups gathering for clandestine meetings to share news on what was happening on the front as well as everyday matters. Additionally, with the post office closed, the pharmacy acted as a point of contact to the outside world and deported residents would leave messages and drop off valuables for friends and relatives.

The Eagle Pharmacy stayed open until 1951 and has since been used as a restaurant, but today it is home to a Museum of National Remembrance. Tadeusz Pankiewicz also released a memoir titled The Pharmacy in Krakow’s Ghetto that featured first-hand witness accounts of the annihilation.

Building number in Podgorze Krakow
Fragment of the Jewish Ghetto walls Krakow

Stop three: Corner at 4 Dąbrówki and 13 Janowa Wola

From the Eagle Pharmacy, make your way to Janowa Wola street. It was here that the popular author Mordechaj Gebirtig and painter Abraham Neuman resided, but both were shot together with a group of elderly residents at the corner at number 4 Dąbrówki and 13 Janowa Wola.

Stop four: Fragments of the Ghetto wall on Lwowska

Head east on Dąbrówki and take a left turn on Lwowska. Continue walking and you will soon reach a 12-metre fragment of the original Ghetto wall. This preserved section of the wall sits in front of a typical Jewish Ghetto home and features a commemorative plaque that was hung in 1983. In Hebrew and Polish, the plaque reads “Here they lived, suffered and died at the hands of German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps.”

Stop five: Section of the Ghetto wall at Limanowskiego

Continue walking along Lwowska, take a left onto Bolesława Limanowskiego and then a right just after the XLIII High School into a public park. Here will you find a longer section of the Ghetto wall that sits behind an active children’s playground, providing a stark, eerie juxtaposition of happiness and tragedy. Parts of this section of the wall have recently been restored, allowing for a clear insight into how the wall surrounding the Ghetto would have looked.

Section of the Jewish Ghetto wall Krakow
Section of the Jewish Ghetto wall Krakow

Stop six: The infectious diseases hospital

Walk back towards Bolesława Limanowskiego, take a left and then left again onto Rękawka. At number 30 Rękawka you’ll come to the former infectious diseases hospital. The hospital acted as a safe haven that was not subject to searches by German patrols, which allowed for the safe storage of food and valuables. Around 350 people admitted to the hospital in June 1942 managed to escape deportation but during the liquidation of the Ghetto in 1943 all of the patients were killed. The bullet holes in the building can still be seen to this day.

Stop seven: The Optima Factory

Take a right turn on Krakusa and you will come to The Optima Factory, a former chocolate making workshop that became the workplace of many Jews during the war who were forced to sew and repair items in order to assist the German war efforts. It was also here, along with Plac Zgody, that thousands of Jews were held in June 1942 before being deported to Bełżec death camp.

Stop eight: The hospital for the chronically ill

Turn right onto Bolesława Limanowskiego and at number 15 you will reach the former hospital for the chronically ill. Here many elderly and seriously ill patients were treated and during the June 1942 deportations several patients were hidden within the hospital. Later in the year, during the October deportations, the hospital was closed down and the remaining patients were either shot in their beds or the hospital courtyard or moved to Plac Zgody ready for deportation.

Stop nine: Józefińska Street

Returning to Krakusa and taking a right, you will reach your final stop on the tour, Józefińska Street. One of the main streets in the Jewish Ghetto, it was here that many of the residents were forced to queue before being deported to the nearby Płaszów labour camp. The street is home to a number of important sites, including the former Jewish Hospital at number 14 where medical staff from outside the Ghetto continued to work. Like the other hospitals in the Ghetto, this one was used as a shelter during the 1942 deportations and many people managed to evade capture. However, on 14th March 1943, during the final liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto, there was a tragic mass killing. On this day, all of the doctors, nurses and staff within the hospital were ordered by the Germans to leave and gather on Józefińska Street, from where they would be sent to Płaszów camp. Patients were forbidden from leaving their beds and the next day they were murdered on the spot along with the doctors who refused to leave them behind.

At the intersection of Józefińska and Krakusa is The Tagesheim, which was previously home to a daycare centre for children of working mothers. Just outside, there are a number of manholes that provided a means of escape for several Jews in the Ghetto. Small groups and families would enter the sewage piping system via these manholes and silently crawl to an exit near the railway bridge over the Vistula river. The Germans did soon discover the route and installed a guard post near the exit on the canal, but even during the final liquidation of the Ghetto, a small number managed to evade deportation by disappearing down these manholes. Some of those who did were among the few Krakow Jews who, against all odds, went on to survive.

Self-guided walking tour of Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto map:

Self-guided walking tour of Krakow's Jewish Ghetto Map

More to see in Podgórze:

Oskar Schindler’s Factory

A short walk from the Jewish Ghetto is Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, which today houses a museum that should not be missed when visiting Krakow. Made famous by Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie, Schindler’s List, the factory is where Oskar Schindler, an industrialist and member of the Nazi Party, set up a business during World War II and through doing so went on to save the lives of around 1,200 Jews. The museum houses a comprehensive permanent display that tells a detailed story of the factory, its workers and the horrors of the war through original artefacts, large-scale installations – including a replica of the Jewish Ghetto walls – and a 30-minute movie featuring the accounts of former workers at the factory.

St. Joseph’s Church

To witness a piece of Podgórze that pre-dates the war, pay a visit to the imposing St. Joseph’s Church. Located in the pretty Rynek Podgórski square, which was once the neighbourhood’s main market square, the majestic church dates back to 1905 and boasts a striking neo-Gothic design by Polish architect Jan Sas-Zubrzycki. An imposing 80-metre clock tower is flanked by two detailed turrets while an intricate array of sculptures and arches decorate the dramatic red brick facade.

Podgórze’s best bars and restaurants

If you simply need some time to digest the tragic tales of the Jewish Ghetto, then there are a number of very good bars, restaurants and cafes located nearby. The streets of Nadwiślańska, Kazimierza Brodzińskiego and Bolesława Limanowskiego make up a characterful district of the neighbourhood and good options include Drukarnia, a fantastic local bar that serves one of the best draught beers in Krakow, and cafes such as Bonjour Cava and Grani Coffee. For some local cuisine, Kuchnia Polska Gaska is one of Krakow’s best Polish restaurants.

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