I made sure to stop in Poland as part of my research because it is a very sad place in Jewish history. A country that once had 3.3 million Jews is now home to only 20,000. This was one of the largest exterminations of Jewish people in all of Europe. To this day Stolpersteine are not allowed in Poland, which is why there is not a single one in the entire country.
I stayed in Krakow, a small city, with the plan of visiting Auschwitz-Birkeanu, a former concentration camp that is now a museum open to the public. The old city of Krakow is full of tourist attractions relating to its Jewish history, but there are barely any Jews currently living there. Walking through the town we heard Klezmer music in restaurants and went to outdoor markets full of Jewish artifacts. I had never seen so many synagogues in such a small area. Interestingly enough, just days after returning home from Eastern Europe, I came across an article in the New York Times titled In Poland, Searching for Jewish Heritage. The author, Joseph Berger, compared Krakow to “A Jewish Disneyland without actual Jews”, which is exactly how I felt while I was there but didn’t know how to describe it.
One of the most prominent memorials was a wall from the ghetto built during World War II. Every Jew was placed into this small section of the city, only to be humiliated, abused and tortured before being sent to concentration camps, if they survived that long. The ghetto wall was tall, dark and shaped like a tombstone, looming over the people inside. Even staring at the wall for a short period of time made me feel trapped and morose, almost lifeless. I imagined how the thousands of Jews must have felt gazing at the walls for hours, day after day. I later learned that the Germans purposely shaped the walls to resemble tombstones in order to oppress the Jews.
Although I knew I would not find any Stolpersteine in Poland, it was necessary to visit because of its tragic Jewish history.