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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 19:10 GMT
Polish tourism benefits from Holocaust memories
Polish concentration camp in Wold War II
Krakow's Jews were transported to concentration camps

By Jon Silverman in Krakow

It began with Schindler's List. Before Spielberg's film, the pre-war Jewish population of Krakow, with a population of some 70,000 people, was just another statistic of the Holocaust.

The city, only a 90 minute drive from Auschwitz, was practically a graveyard. The one sign of activity was the site of Schindler's factory and the ghetto which supplied it with labour.

This industry has made Krakow a reminder of the rich Jewish life that was snuffed out by the Nazis all over Eastern Europe.

Suddenly Jews from Britain, America and Israel began arriving there, searching for the past. And the Poles were determined to recreate it for them.

History

In the ancient Jewish quarter of Krakow, Kazimierz, traditional klezmer music can be heard in any one of a number of so-called Jewish-style restaurants.

Schindler's List
Oskar Schindler saved many Jews by employing them in his factory
Hotels with such names as Alef, Ariel and Esther have sprung up since Schindler's List - and most of them have no Jewish connection other than their names.

Eva works behind the counter of a Jewish bookshop. She says that many people who come to Krakow are disappointed that the hoteliers and shop vendors are predominantly gentile.

"It's difficult to explain that these are just people who have started their businesses here, and this is their job now," she says.

There are, however, a few Jews working in Krakow. Allen Haberberg, a Jewish American, opened up the Hotel Eden seven years ago, despite the fact that his Polish grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust.

He looks at his fellow entrepreneurs in the Jewish quarter with wry interest. "On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, they will close their businesses and come to the synagogue," he says.

"I don't know whether this is a compromise they made years ago when they opened, or a genuine feeling of remembrance for what once was."

Exploitation
Krakow Market Square
Modern Krakow has few Jewish inhabitants

But that's far too generous an explanation for Allen's uncle, Herbert, who lives in London. He remembers Krakow from before the war, but he wouldn't go back there now.

His view is that all the tourists are getting is something that the Polish entrepreneurs think is Jewish. "They are exploiting the memory of something that does not exist anymore," he says.

And what about Steven Spielberg? His re-creation of the story of Oskar Schindler is certainly masterly. But in one key respect, it's a celluloid fantasy.

The Jewish ghetto created by the Nazis, which tourists in their thousands come to see, wasn't in Kazimierz at all.

It was actually on the other side of the river - in a district which few bother to visit any more. But where there's money to be made, illusion and reality are pretty close bedfellows.

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See also:

29 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Steven Spielberg: Movie man
31 Aug 00 | Europe
Polish inquiry into war massacre
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