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70th Jubilee Kraków Christmas Crib Contest and Exhibition

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Thursday 6th December to Sunday 24th February, Krzysztofory Palace, Rynek Główny 35

One of Kraków’s most idiosyncratic Christmas traditions is the popular creation of ‘szopki.’ Something of a strange cross between a nativity scene, gingerbread house and dollhouse, these unique structures more resemble colourful, foil covered castles or cathedrals than cribs and are the bizarre result of a folk tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. Re-popularised in 1937 with the first official Christmas Crib Competition, this year marks the historic 70th edition.

On December 6th at 10:00, artists will display their creations to the public around the market square’s Adam Mickiewicz monument. Later they will be moved indoors to the History Museum on the other side of the Rynek, where they will be on display throughout the holidays until February 24th. On Sunday December 9th awards will be given at 14:00 to the winners in a number of categories.

Anyone visiting Kraków should absolutely pay a visit to the History Museum in order to experience this unique folk tradition.

November 30, 2012 Posted by | Events, News, Recommendations | Leave a comment

Krakow Christmas Markets

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Main Market Square

One of the season’s most popular highlights is the annual Christmas fair on the main market square – a tradition started before WWII and rekindled after the fall of communism (when people were allowed to buy and possess things again).

Occupying the south-west corner of the Rynek, this year’s fair features some 50 rustic, wooden stalls selling all kinds of folk art and Christmas ornaments, candies and sweets, knitwear, toys, souvenirs, jewellery, pottery, partridges, pear trees and more.

Christmas tree in old Krakow

Food vendors will also be dishing up hot food, over which families share picnic tables and keep warm with the hot mulled wine (called ‘grzaniec’) dispensed from enormous barrels nearby.

Somewhere close at hand Saint Nick will be posing with the little ones illuminated by an enormous evergreen as carolling is the air and random acts of holiday spirit take place on a cultural stage nearby.


The stalls are generally open from 10:00 – 20:00 and the atmosphere will remain intact until December 26th when most will close, though the market itself doesn’t officially close until the Sunday after the three Kings Day parade on January 8th.

Galician Advent Fair

This year Kraków boasts a second holiday fair located on Plac Jezioranskiego in front of Galeria Krakowska and the train station. In what looks set to establish itself as a new city tradition, this
small holiday market features mostly local vendors selling a range of regional foods, traditional handicrafts, decorations and more, from wooden stalls arranged around the ice rink that
occupies the square in winter.

Not only that, but there’s also a beautiful carousel (open daily 10:00-22:00), a stage for concerts by live bands and carollers, daily workshops for children and other events throughout the month.

Open until December 24th, with vendor stalls open from 10:00 – 22:00 each day, this new
holiday market is less congested than the Rynek and absolutely worth checking out.

November 30, 2012 Posted by | Events, Krakow Travel Advice, News | | Leave a comment

St. Maximilian Kolbe in the drawings by Marian Kołodziej

November 29, 2012 Posted by | News | Leave a comment

Apology from Norwegian police for Auschwitz deportations.

532 Jews were taken to their deaths at Stettin and Auschwitz in November 1942. Only nine returned. In a historic move, Norwegian police issue a formal apology for their role exactly 70 years ago.

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“I remember thinking were these Nazis or ordinary, clear-thinking Norwegians that led me away. I’ve wondered what kind of people were these?” says Samuel Steinmann, the sole living Norwegian Auschwitz survivor today.

89-year-old Mr Steinmann was one of the 532 Norwegian Jews the Nazis deported from Oslo harbour in the cargo hold of the DS ‘Donau’, the 26 November 1942.

He was a 19-year-old student at the time. Two plain-clothed Norwegian State Police officers (Statspolitiet) arrested him at his home. They took him to the ship using an existing city tram, newspaper Dagsavisen reports him as telling them.

The DS ‘Donau’ left at 14:55 for Stettin in Poland. Trains were used for onward transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Over 300 police officers, led by police inspector Knut Rød, took part in the arrest and deportation operation of Norwegian Jews that year on orders of the Gestapo. About 2,100 Jews total lived in Norway at the time.

According to historian Mats Tangestuen at the Jewish Museum in Oslo, the youngest child deportee was four months old.

“Probably none of them could imagine what destiny they were going to meet. It’s likely none of them were aware they would be shipped out of the country and sent to a camp where they were gassed the same day on arrival,” he theorises to Aftenposten.

“I wish to apologise on behalf of the Norwegian police and those who had dealings with the deportation of Norwegian Jews to the concentration camps,” newly appointed director of police Odd Reidar Humlegård says to Dagsavisen.

His expression of regret today also comes following Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s public apology for the deportations on 27th January, the UN’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Without relieving the Nazis of their responsibility, it is time to for us to acknowledge that Norwegian policemen and other Norwegians took part in the arrest and deportation of Jews,” said the Prime Minister.

“Today I feel it is fitting for me to express our deepest apologies that this could happen on Norwegian soil,” he continued.

Samuel Steinmann was also present there, which Stoltenberg made a point of acknowledging at the time.

“I want to say the same about the police director’s apology. I don’t go round thinking about it, it’s so long ago. Nevertheless, I accept it with good will when I now get to hear an apology,” says Mr Steinmann.

Both Guri Hjeltnes, director of Oslo’s Holocaust Centre, and Jewish Community spokesperson Ervin Kohn welcome the apology.

“It’s very gratifying and an important occurrence”, Ms Hjeltnes says.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” declares Mr Kohn, adding, “I hope this can also lead to anti-Semitism being taken gravely in 2012.”

Oslo Conservative Party Mayor Fabian Stang and Labour’s recently appointed Minister of Culture Hadia Tajik held speeches at the monument to the M/S ‘Donau’ deportation at Akershuskaia this morning. Bishop of Oslo Ole Christian Kvarme also attended.

The Jewish Museum has just opened an exhibition about the deportations today, with a concert scheduled to take place in the Synagogue this evening.

772 Norwegian Jews total were sent to death camps under WWII. Just 26 of them survived the war.

Resistance fighter and saboteur Max Manus sank the M/S ‘Donau’ in the Oslo Fjord on 16 January 1945 using limpet mines.

November 26, 2012 Posted by | News | Leave a comment

Auschwitz: Another 5,000,000 Euro for the perpetual fund

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Make sure your tour provider shows you Block 13 (previously 16a) at Birkenau, and explains its’ significance.

France has contributed 5 million euros for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation which oversees the conservation and maintenance work at the site of the former Nazi German concentration camp in southern Poland.

An agreement to this effect was signed at the Auschwitz Museum by its director Piotr Cywiński and the French minister for war veterans Kader Arif.

The donation will be transferred to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation in five yearly installments, starting this year.

The Foundation, which was established in January 2009, hopes to create a Perpetuity Fund of 120 million euros by 2015 to ensure the consolidation, restoration and long-term maintenance of the camp site.

The most sizeable contribution, of 60 million euros, has been offered by Germany. The United States has contributed 15 million US dollars, Poland – 10 million euros and Austria – 6 million euros.

The site of the Auschwitz camp extends over an area of almost 200 hectares and comprises 155 buildings, most which are badly in need of repair. The priority task is the conservation of 45 brick barracks at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

The conservation projects are also to cover the camp’s archives, documents and objects in the museum collection.

November 24, 2012 Posted by | Auschwitz, News | Leave a comment

STING – Lodz, Poland

November 22, 2012 Posted by | Events, News | , , , , | 1 Comment

More Holocaust survivors to receive German compensation

Germany will increase pension benefits to Jewish Holocaust survivors and broaden the category of those eligible for compensation.

The move is part of revisions made to the 1952 Luxembourg Agreement, under which West Germany assumed responsibility for the Holocaust.

As a result some 80,000 Jews in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union will receive payments for the first time.

To date, Germany has paid an estimated 55bn euros (£44bn; $70bn) to survivors.

The amended accord was signed by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Julius Berman, chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, to mark the treaty’s 60th anniversary.

“We still do not know the names of all of the victims,” Mr Schaeuble said.

“The crimes of the Holocaust were so inconceivably enormous that you can’t know all of the victims or those with claims, so you have to adjust it again and again.

“In eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, there are still people who were not entitled to make claims. And because those people who were entitled were identified, we said they should also receive [payments].”

Under the new agreement, Jewish survivors in ex-Communist countries are now eligible for a one-off payment of 2,556 euros.

In addition, some 100,000 elderly Jewish victims of the Nazi regime in the region will see their pensions increase from 200 euros per month to 300 euros per month, to match the sum Holocaust survivors elsewhere are already receiving.

Mr Berman said around 500,000 Holocaust survivors were still alive worldwide. His organisation was founded in 1951 to secure financial compensation for them.

“Half [of the survivors] are in poverty or very close to the poverty line,” Mr Berman said.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | News | , | Leave a comment

KRAKOW – 8th best city in Europe.

Krakow has been voted one of the finest cities in Europe by leading American magazine Conde Nast Traveler.

Over 46,000 readers took part in the Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2012, with Krakow finishing joint eighth in the Top European Cities category, alongside Prague.

Unsurprisingly, Poland’s ‘cultural capital’ performed well in the ‘culture/sites’ ratings, with readers allotting the city 91.7 points out of 100 in this area.

Krakow also won readers’ approval in general ‘ambience’, notching up 89.3 points there.

However, the southern Polish city was notably let down in the shopping sphere, gaining just 62.9 points in that field.

Here Krakow was no match for Paris (4th in the overall ratings), which gained 84.2 points for shopping.

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The overall winner in Conde Nast’s Top European Cities this year was Florence, followed by Barcelona and Rome.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | News | , , | Leave a comment

Poland to bid for Winter Olympics 2022

In training for 2022

Poland and Slovakia have joined forces in a bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Documentation concerning the proposals has been submitted to Poland’s Minister of Sport, Joanna Mucha.

According to the plan, the former royal capital of Krakow, southern Poland, would host the opening and closing ceremonies of the event.

Krakow would also host the majority of the events played on ice, while Zakopane, Poland’s winter capital, would handle snowboarding, cross country skiing and the biathlon.

Slovakia would organise a number of skiing events, while also hosting a portion of the ice hockey fixtures.

Meanwhile, a letter of intent has been signed by the heads of the Olympic committees of Poland and Slovakia.

According to the documentation submitted to Minister Mucha, the official candidacy declaration would be made in 2013.

Other possible candidates include St Moritz, Oslo, Barcelona, Nice and Lviv.

The host will ultimately be chosen in Kuala Lumpur in August 2015, during the 127th session of the International Olympic Committee.

Although Poland regularly organises sections of international winter sports events, it has never hosted the Winter Olympics.

November 11, 2012 Posted by | News | , , , , | 1 Comment

KRAKOW TOURS 3000

krakow tours 3000

Today we reached the milestone of our 3000th guest.

Many thanks to to Dawn Mawdsley and Rebecca Savill.

And of course everyone else during the last 2 1/2 years.

Cheers
Phil

November 5, 2012 Posted by | News | Leave a comment

The photographer at Auschwitz:

Man forced to take chilling images of inmates and their Nazi guards was haunted until his death at 94

  • Photographer Wilhelm Brasse died this week aged 94
  • He had taken up to 50,000 photos in Auschwitz for the Nazis
  • Mr Brasse hid negatives which were used to convict the very Nazis who commissioned them

These chilling images of a young Jewish girl at Auschwitz are among thousands that have haunted a Nazi photographer all his life.

Wilhelm Brasse was forced to take photographs of frightened children and victims of gruesome medical experiments moments from their death at the extermination camp where some 1.5 million people, mostly Jewish died in the Holocaust.

Mr Brasse, who died this week aged 94, has had relive those horrors from inside Auschwitz but is considered a hero after he risked his life to preserve the harrowing photographs, which later helped convict the very Nazi monsters who commissioned the photographs.

He said: ‘When I started taking pictures again, I saw the dead. I would be standing taking a photograph of a young girl for her portrait but behind her I would see them like ghosts standing there.

‘I saw all those big eyes, terrified, staring at me. I could not go on.’

He never again picked up a camera. Instead, he set up a business making sausage casings and lived a modestly prosperous life.

Before the war, Mr Brasse trained as a portrait photographer in a studio owned by his aunt in the Polish town of Katowice. He had an eye for the telling image and an ability to put his subjects at ease.

But his peaceful, prosperous existence was shattered with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939. He was the son of a German father and Polish mother.

He said: ‘When the Germans came, they wanted me to join them and say I was loyal to the Reich, but I refused. I felt Polish and I was Polish. It was my mother who instilled this in us.’

Considering the Nazis’ capacity for brutality, it was an extraordinarily brave thing for 22-year-old Mr Brasse to do.

After several Gestapo interrogations he tried to flee to Hungary but was caught at the border. He was imprisoned for four months and then offered another chance to declare his loyalty to Hitler.

He said: ‘They wanted me to join the German army and promised everything would be OK for me if I did.’

But again he refused and on August 31, 1940 he was placed on a train for the newly opened concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In February 1941, he was summoned to the camp commander’s office, the notoriously brutal Rudolf Höss, who would later be hanged for his crimes.

Mr Brasse was certain that this was the end but when he arrived he discovered that the SS was looking for photographers.

There followed what must have been a bizarre and terrifying experience. The assembled men were tested on their photographic skills.

Each must have known failure would mean a return to hard labour and death.

He said: ‘We were five people. They went through everything with us – the laboratory skills and the technical ability with a camera. I had the skills as well as being able to speak German, so I was chosen.’

The Nazis wanted documentation of their prisoners. The Reich was obsessed with bureaucratic records and setup ‘Erkennungsdienst,’ the photographic identification unit.

Based in the camp, it included cameramen, darkroom technicians and designers.

He said: ‘The conditions for me were so much better then. The food and warmth were heavenly.’

Soon began a daily parade of the doomed in this makeshift photographic studio. Each day he took so many pictures that another team of prisoners was assembled to develop the pictures.

The photographer estimates that he personally must have taken between 40,000 and 50,000 portraits.

One day, a prisoner was sent to him because one of the camp doctors, the infamous Nazi Dr Josef Mengele, wanted a photograph of the man’s unusual tattoo.

He said: ‘It was quite beautiful. It was a tattoo of Adam and Eve standing before the Tree in the Garden of Eden, and it had obviously been done by a skilled artist.’

About an hour after taking the photograph, he learned that the man had been killed. He was called by another prisoner to come to one of the camp crematoria where he saw the dead man had been skinned.

Mr Brasse said: ‘The skin with the tattoo was stretched on a table waiting to be framed for this doctor. It was a horrible, horrible sight.’

 ‘Mengele liked my photographs and said he wanted me to photograph some of those he was experimenting on.

‘The first group were Jewish girls. They were ordered to strip naked. They were aged 15 to 17 years and were looked after by these two Polish nurses.

‘They were very shy and frightened because there were men watching them. I tried my best to calm them.’

Mr Brasse and another inmate managed to bury thousands of negatives in the camp’s grounds which were later recovered.

November 1, 2012 Posted by | Auschwitz, News | , | Leave a comment

   

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