Train Ride to Kraków
Class 50 said goodbye to Warsaw this morning with a brisk walk to the Warsaw Central Rail Line station. On our walk, we got a great sunrise glimpse of the Palace of Culture and Science, dedicated to the People by Joseph Stalin. It is the 6th tallest building in Europe. It was built by Stalin in the 1950s as a gift to the Polish people.
Most of the railway network in Poland was built prior to World War II. As reported in 2019, there are over 11,500 miles of track, 7,500 miles of which are electrified. This growth and modernization are largely the result of Poland’s entry into the European Union. For some, the train ride to Krakow was yet another first on our trip! The train ride was very smooth and quick. We traveled the ~170 miles to Krakow in only 2.5 hours and that included one stop!
Walking Tour of Kraków
Once departing the train station, we entered the old town of Kraków and journeyed to the Main Square (Rynek Glówny). There we were able to witness the hourly trumpet from the west window of the high tower of the Saint Mary’s Basilica. The trumpeting historically indicates an alarm warning for the city. We had the opportunity to browse the square shops, take photographs, and have a cup of coffee.
We continued our walking tour towards the main castle of Krakow. While the buildings of Kraków look like that in the old town of Warsaw, but it is important to remember Krakow was not destroyed by World War II invasions and the original structures still exist. Standing in such an old place is a reminder of how young our own nation is.
Galicja Jewish Museum Visit
The Galicja Jewish Museum exists to commemorate the victims of the holocaust and share the Jewish culture of Polish Galicjia. We were joined by Lidia Maksymowicz, a holocaust survivor. When she was 3 years old, Lidia was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau with her mother. They were separated upon entry at the camp. She shared with us her story of the atrocities against all humans, in particular children, during the holocaust.
Lidia was a child victim of Josef Mengele at the camp, where children were frequently experimented upon with experimental medicines. We were reminded of the power of privilege as Lidia referred to her own privilege of having blue eyes, thus being exempt from experimental eye drops focused on changing eye colors; these eye drops resulted in permanent blindness. Lidia was able to survive and credited her survival from her mother’s advice of being invisible. She showed us her tattoo, given at the camp, erasing her identity in the 1940s. She referred to her tattoo when speaking of meeting with Pope Frances this past year where the Pope kissed her tattoo. She referenced the symbolism of this event and its representation of him acknowledging every person whoever had to bear one of those tattoos. Lidia is a true inspiration and reminded us that the history of the world is in our own hands.
Schindler’s Factory Museum
We then participated in a guided tour of the Kraków Museum of Oskar Schindler, which focuses on the German occupation of Poland. Oskar Schindler, a German Catholic industrialist, and member of the Nazi party, moved to Kraków to assume management of two formerly Jewish-owned enamel kitchenware factories. These factories employed over 1,700 workers of at least 1,000 were Jewish. Schindler used bribes and diplomacy to look out for the well-being of the Jewish people in his employment and to ensure the Jewish workers were not deported. For the factory to remain essential during the war effort, he added an armaments manufacturing division. When the Kraków ghetto was liquidated in 1943, he allowed his workers to stay in the factory overnight. Schindler continued to outmaneuver the SS to prevent the Jewish people from experiencing the brutality of the concentration campus, including relocating his plant to Brnenec, as a subcamp of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. This would require 1,200 Jewish prisoners needed to work in the new factory, which Oscar kept track of on lists; these lists became known as “Schindler’s List”. While this new subcamp/armaments factory only produced 1 wagonload of ammunition in 8 months of operation, it also facilitated the survival of over 1,000 Jews until the camp was liberated in May of 1945.
Oskar Schindler was a complicated character. Within our leadership journey, we have been asked to reflect frequently. Schindler’s own reflection resulted in the saving of over 1,000 Jewish people. This was a strong reminder of the power of self-reflection.
Dinner with Sebastian Rudol
Sebastian Rudol serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Jewish Community Centre of Kraków and was invited to help us frame up our tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camp the following day. The JCC provides programming (e.g., tours, Polish and Jewish culinary workshops, and genealogical consultations) residents for tourists, many of them Jewish, passing through Krakow. The JCC in Krakow has been working to foster a more open environment in Krakow to allow for pre–WWII Jewish Krakow residents to openly practice and display their cultural traditions. Sebastian also reminded us that although Auschwitz-Birkenau was devastating, it was not the end of the Jews in Poland. The JCC works to remind us that Jews in Poland were regular citizens; neighbors, co-workers, and respected community members that were integral parts of the Polish culture.
Food and Culture Update
We are so grateful for the entire experience the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation is providing us. Our guide, Agnieszka Kus (Agnes), has been a wealth of Polish and historical culinary knowledge. As a native Pole, she has tremendous insight on all issues and is a regular center of conversation at meals. The bonus is, she knows so much about food (which Class 50 is a big fan of)! This evening we had another incredible dining experience at Biala Roza in Kraków including smoked trout mousse, beef cheeks, and a delicious chocolate cupcake and sorbet. Another special part of tonight was a sampling of Polish made wines; from sparkling to Zweigelt, we were able to sample several varieties from Poland. Polish food and wine for the win!