All the way through the 13th century till the end of the 90’s the Jews were the fall guys in Poland and thereby Krakow. Sometimes they were allowed to trade and other times they weren’t. Sometimes they got killed, while in other periods they were allowed to expand their territory.
Jakub Nowakowski, the boss of the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, explained that the attitude towards the Jews in overall Poland changed in the 90’s. Before that time, they weren’t even allowed to pray in public places or celebrate their holidays. “Even just wearing a yarmulke could have gotten them in trouble.” The fact that this changed in the 90’s had everything to do with Poland being independent and democratic again. The official Polish flag was hanging outside many windows, but other changes like respecting the Jews didn’t go without setbacks.
According to Mr. Nowakowski it was difficult for Polish people to change their long-rooted behaviors in a short period of time; “On one hand democratic Poland did acknowledge the fact that there were Jews living in Poland, but on the other hand, democratic Poland only knew the importance of the holocaust for their selves and not for the Jews.” For instance, until 1989 communistic Poland wouldn’t acknowledge what the Jews had gone through during that time, even though the fate of the Jews was during the holocaust in several ways worse than for the other Polish. After the 90’s, Poland had to tell the real story about their past. This meant that the story had to be rewritten and that heroes that had been heroes since they were little weren’t that amazing or didn’t even exist. Or places like Auschwitz turned out to be places where the Jewish suffered even more than they had. And just like that, everything that the Polish were proud of was taken away from them explained Mr. Nowakowski. Therefore, the right-wing orthodox Catholics community changed their attitude and became very popular, especially by the youth. They made Poland less democratic and rewrote the just rewritten stories again, explained Ewa Zawade, a Krakow history scholar.
And that is why Poland is nowadays not that progressive anymore when it comes to the Jews. This is because when the government was thinking of the Jews, they forget the feelings of the others. This problem is, according to the European Commission, a general problem. Anti-Semitism is increasing, Jews don’t feel safe on the streets, 38% wants to leave their country because of the unsafety and so on and so on. And that is why the European Commission introduced their first strategy in October last year to improve the Jewish life with the help of these three pillars: “prevent all forms of anti-Semitism; protect and promote Jewish life; and promote research, education, and Holocaust remembrance.”
This problem is less present in Krakow since not many Jews left Kazimierz; the Jewish hotspot near Krakow. This means that the Catholics and the Jews had been living together for over decades. They go to the same schools, to the same markets, they can even be neighbors. But of course, nothing is perfect, also in Krakow things aren’t going as smooth as Ms. Zawade would wish. For example, there is a very common word people use daily which is promoting anti-Semitism. Not many Jews open their mouth, which dates to the Second World War and communism. During that time a lot of Jews were afraid to be a Jew, so they got rid of their names to not get caught. And because of what happened back then, a lot of people find out that they are Jewish when they are in their mid-twenties and go to college. Which is why the Jewish Community Centre, established by Charles, Prince of Wales, in 2008 is still expending every year, mentions Klementyna Poźniak, a volunteer at the community center.
In the end, is it a good thing that that Jews are in a safe place after all these years, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of Polish people. The same way the other way around, Jews should feel safe in their own countries all around Europe without having the feeling to leave their belongings. To solve these problems, let the strategy be a success, so hopefully in the future Europe can be a place where anyone can feel, and is safe again.