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Podgorze: Discovering the former Krakow Ghetto

    Podgorze is a quiet district of Krakow, located on the opposite bank of the Vistula River coming from Krakow’s Old Town. Until a few years ago Podgorze was quite out of the way for tourists, and it was a rather run-down area.

    Today Podgorze is becoming more and more lively, and is a residential area quite popular with young local families. But the main reason to explore the neighborhood is that it was once the Krakow Ghetto, and you can still discover some interesting traces of its turbulent past today.

    From the nearby Kraków-Płaszów Concentration Camp to the square that was the heart of the Krakow Ghetto, from the ghetto walls to Schindler’s Factory, a stroll through the streets of Podgorze tells the recent history of Krakow better than anywhere else.

    What you will find in this guide to Podgorze:

    Things to see and do in Podgorze

    Podgorze for many centuries has been an independent city from Krakow, located just beyond Kazimierz, along the important route connecting Krakow with the Wieliczka Salt Mines, once fundamental to the city’s economy.

    This neighborhood played a rather marginal role until World War II, when the Nazis decided to move all the Jews from Krakow and surrounding areas there, establishing the Krakow Ghetto.

    From 1941 to 1943 the Krakow Ghetto, enclosed within walls (built with ancient tombstones stolen from Jewish cemeteries) and passages guarded by armed soldiers, occupied a large part of the old center of Podgorze.

    Over 16,000 people were crammed into an area where only a few families lived before (about 2-3,000 people). In the central square of the Ghetto, what is now called Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta), round-ups and deportations were regularly held, mainly to the nearby Płaszów concentration camp.

    In 1943 the Krakow Ghetto was liquidated and people were transferred to the Auschwitz extermination camp, where they were immediately massacred. Only a few Jews were saved, mainly thanks to the work in Schindler’s Factory, which today is one of the biggest attractions in Podgorze.

    After the war, Podgorze was a growing suburb for a long time. Many nice residential areas have sprung up today, and its old center is getting more and more lively.

    Remains of the Krakow Ghetto

    Although the heart of the old Podgorze district has remained quite the same as it was in the 1940s, today it is quite difficult to find traces of its dark past.

    The wall surrounding the Krakow Ghetto was in fact demolished immediately after the liquidation of the ghetto, and today only a small fragment remains. You can see it at 29 – 30 Lwowska Street, or you could take a look at the lesser known one, which is located at 60 Limanowskiego Street, just behind a public school.

    Many of the buildings in the area have many stories to tell, some were prisons, others were secret police headquarters, offices from where the Nazis administered Ghetto life, hospitals and sanatoriums for infectious patients. Other houses were dens of partisans and underground resistance organizations, for example just adjacent to the central square was a safe house of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB).

    To discover all the secrets of the Krakow Ghetto, you can join a historical tour of the area, or one of the free walking tours that allow you to have an overview of Podgorze and Kazimierz.

    The heart of the ghetto was what is now called Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta). The roundups took place here and this is the place where during the liquidation of the Ghetto people were forced to leave for Auschwitz. Today in Ghetto Heroes Square there is an installation known as Krakow Chairs, 70 metal chairs that recall the sad past of this place.

    Right adjacent to Ghetto Heroes Square is Pharmacy under the Eagle (Apteka pod Orlem). This pharmacy remained the only one operating in the entire Ghetto, and its owner Tadeusz Pankiewicz was the only Pole to be allowed to stay there. While they all shut down their business, he decided to stay and help the Jews. The pharmacy appears in the film Schindler’s List and its story is told in the book “The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy”.

    Schindler’s Factory

    One of the symbolic places of Podgorze is Oskar Schindler’s Factory in Lipowa Street n. 4, in the Zablocie district, once an abandoned industrial district which is now becoming a modern residential district.

    Oskar Schindler’s Factory was a large industrial complex owned by a German entrepreneur, Oskar Schindler, who had taken advantage of the Nazi occupation to set up an enamelware factory there.

    The factory mainly used Ghetto Jews as labor, and over time it became a sub-camp of the Płaszów labor camp. Oskar Schindler witnessed the Nazi atrocities and decided to help as many Jews as possible. He managed to protect them by making them work for his factory, and having them moved to a new factory when the Ghetto was liquidated. He thus managed to save over 1000 lives.

    Today Schindler’s Factory is one of the major attractions to visit in Krakow. Inside you can visit an interesting museum about the life of the city during the years of the Nazi occupation. There are excellent guided tours that allow you to visit Schindler’s Factory and the Krakow Ghetto at its best.

    Płaszów Concentration Camp

    Rather off the beaten path, beyond Krakus Mound, is the scenic Liban Quarry, a huge and terrifying abandoned limestone quarry. During the Nazi occupation this was one of the main forced labor camps of the Płaszów concentration camp.

    Immediately after the rather unsafe abandoned quarry there is a hill with vast meadows, where the barracks of the Płaszów concentration camp stood. Many scenes from the film Schindler’s List were also filmed in these places.

    The Red House is also easily recognizable, that is the house of Amon Goeth, the ruthless commander of the concentration camp, who in the film is also shown in the famous scene where he enjoys shooting Jews from the balcony of that house. The balcony in question is located in the back of the house, but a few years ago the current owners renovated it and transformed it into a private villa.

    A few steps away it is still possible to see the Gray House, which has remained quite unchanged, another place of the horrors of the Płaszów concentration camp. Here was the office of the camp commander Amon Goeth (in the film Schindler’s List, unlike the real story, this is Goeth’s villa) and here were the cells for the most cruel punishments for the prisoners of the camp.

    Little else remains of the Płaszów camp. In January 1945 the Nazis destroyed it, transferring the remaining prisoners to Auschwitz with a death march.

    To visit the Płaszów concentration camp it is highly recommended to go there with an expert guide, because it is the only way to fully understand the history of the place and the tragic events of the Krakow Ghetto.

    Krakus Mound

    Krakus Mound is one of the most mysterious places in Krakow. It is a cairn of 60 meters in diameter and 16 meters in height, which rises right above the Podgorze district, near the Podgorski Cemetery.

    Its origins are unknown, as well as its original functions. According to legend, Krakus Mound could be the tomb of King Krakus, the mythical founder of Krakow. However, archaeological investigations that took place in the 1930s did not find human remains inside.

    Its origin appears to be very ancient indeed, and seems to date back to prehistoric times. Similar to other artifacts, such as those at Stonehenge, Podgorze’s Krakus Mound may have been built by the Celts. In fact, when viewed in the context of the other prehistoric mounds around the city, they seem designed with astronomy in mind, to signal some important Celtic feast days.

    To visit it you have to follow some paths near the Podgorski Cemetery, in the area near Płaszów, or follow the paths that from the ancient Fort Benedict, located in the beautiful park behind the ghetto wall, lead to Płaszów and to the Krakus Mound, well visible even from a distance.

    From the top of Krakus Mound you can enjoy a nice view over Krakow, I recommend you to go there at sunset as it is quite scenic.

    Rynek Podgórski: the old center of Podgorze

    When you come from Kazimierz to Podgorze via the two most famous bridges in Krakow, the new and spectacular Father Bernatek’s Bridge and the historic Most Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego, you will most likely arrive right in the heart of one of the most beautiful corners of Podgorze, its old center, which has kept the charm of the old days rather intact.

    This area is not very popular with tourists, but mostly with locals. However, a lot of nice places to eat or drink recently have sprung up, mostly concentrated around Rynek Podgórski, the large triangular square in the center of the Pogorze district.

    Just adjacent to the square you can find a great authentic milk bar, Bar Mleczny Południowy, which serves good and cheap simple Polish cuisine.

    The beautiful church overlooking Rynek Podgórski is St. Joseph’s Church, a neo-Gothic masterpiece dating back to the early 1900s.

    What is the best way to visit Podgorze and the Jewish Quarter

    Podgorze can be easily explored on foot, a good choice can be to visit it together with the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz.

    In fact Kazimierz and Podgorze are not only adjacent (just cross one of the bridges over the Vistula), but they are also tragically connected: Kazimierz was the old Jewish quarter for centuries, while Podgorze became tragically known for the Krakow Ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

    The best way to visit Podgorze is with a local guide: at a superficial glance it might seem just an anonymous suburb, with little or nothing of interest to see. An expert guide will allow you to understand well what you see, and the history behind the most important and mysterious buildings in the neighborhood.

    I recommend a great guided tour (perfect for history buffs) which includes a visit to the Płaszów Concentration Camp and Schindler’s Factory. Alternatively, you can join one of the free walking tours that take place almost every day, but remember to reserve your seat ahead of time.

    ☞ Read our guide to the Best Free Tours in Krakow

    How to get to Podgorze from Krakow’s Old Town

    You can get to Podgorze on foot, passing through the Kazimierz Jewish Quarter and crossing the Vistula River on the Bernatka Bridge (Father Bernatek’s Bridge) or, if you are coming from Wawel, the fastest route is via the Piłsudskiego Bridge. On foot it takes about 30 minutes from Wawel.

    Alternatively you can take trams 8, 10 and 13 and get off at the Korona stop, near Rynek Podgórski. Or to and from Plac Bohaterów Getta you could take trams 3 and 24, which take you to the opposite side of the old town and stop in front of the central station. If you have the City Pass Krakow Card, tram and bus rides are free for you.

    Things to see and do around Podgorze

    Podgorze is within easy reach of the Kazimierz district, the former Jewish Quarter, one of the liveliest and most picturesque districts of Krakow.

    From Podgorze with a short walk you are in the heart of Krakow’s Old Town and all the main attractions. Check out our must-read list of the Best Things to Do and See in Krakow.

    Planning your trip to Krakow? Then these will come in handy: