‘The dark green and white train, covered in dirty grey slush splashes stretched along the entire length of the platform. Sinclair looked to her left and observed a monstrous dark green steam engine, puffing out clouds of noxious greyish black smoke onto the platform and passengers. The only day light came from two grimy skylights in the centre of the platform.’
I stayed in a comfortable hotel located near the Kazimierz quarter. The next day I joined another guided walking tour. It began in the old quarter at Market Square which dates to the 13th century. It’s one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, and the historic townhouses and churches are outstanding. The magnificent Cloth Hall dominates the centre of the square. The cafes and restaurants make it a great place for people watching. You can take a horse and carriage ride to the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill or around the side streets.
The tour continued onto the Jewish quarter. Except it isn’t really a Jewish quarter, sure there are one or two Israeli run restaurants but there is no Jewish community. When I asked how many Jews live in Cracow, the answer was 98. Walking on we came across ‘The Chairs in the Square’. This is where the Jewish ghetto was located. The chairs are made from iron, and symbolise the tragedy of the Polish Jews who were imprisoned in the ghetto. Over 20,000 people were crammed into an area where previously 3,000 people had inhabited. In March 1941, the Nazis locked the gates of the ghetto and in 1943 they liquidated it.
Day trips are available to Auschwitz from Cracow, but I didn’t want to go. While walking around the Kazimierz I came across the Galicia Jewish Museum. It’s a bit off the beaten track, but it’s well worth visiting. This is not your usual museum. It features photographs of fields and rural views. Looking closer I saw text under every photo.
In one photo, I noticed a gravestone half buried by grass. One gravestone. That was it. I read that in 1939 fifty families lived in this village. In 1941, after the Germans invaded there were none, and the village lay abandoned. The Germans systemically murdered the 3 million Galician Jewish population.
The exhibition is emotionally draining, but if you are in Cracow I urge you to visit it.
Visiting the Royal Castle inspired me. In the third book of the trilogy ‘Spies, Lies and Lesbians’, Nikki Sinclair encounters Viscount Rochester who has plans to emulate Hitler. I’ve used the setting of the Castle, but I’ve shifted the location to Austria.
‘A massive arch carved in stone towered above the two huge oak doors. Clearly engraved in the stonework were the bolts of the SS. The ancient runic symbols which the Nazi’s had procured. In the middle, on both sides of the arch, a date had been carved. 30/1/1933. The year Hitler came to power.
Sinclair faltered. Her instinct told her to cut and run and not to cross the threshold. She failed to conceal her distaste and gave an involuntary shudder. A shadowy figure smiled at her discomfort.’
Lezability factor – 1-2. If you’re lucky, you may encounter a British tourist from the UK.