Sometimes there are very special people in the world, and one is fortunate to meet them and claim them as friends.
My UK-based friend Kathakoli Dasgupta – a frequent contributor to this blog – is one such person.
Not only is Katha the young woman who got me into running and an enthusiastic supporter since Day One, she is also a fearsomely intelligent and articulate woman, who writes so well, and thinks deeply about things.
The post you are about to read is a perfect example of Katha.
Today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in light of everything that is happening in the Middle East these days, it is a day of extra-charged significance.
So when Katha messaged me to say that late last year, she had actually run through some of the Holocaust memorials in Poland, as her own personal tribute to the victims, and had written about it…well, there was only one response…
Running posts are often emotional – someone achieves a goal, or misses their goal, or is moved by the beautiful scenery they are running through – and all such posts are wonderful things to read.
But this one is different. It is emotional in a visceral way.
Thank you SO much for writing and sharing this, my dear friend.
“We went to Krakow November last year. When we had booked the trip earlier that year, it was to learn more about its harrowing past—the holocaust and the war. History. But then with the ongoings in Gaza since October and the resurfacing of the Palestine-Israel conflict, our visit to Krakow was emotionally overwhelming.
It was hard to disengage and distance ourselves from all that we saw and learnt in the museums given the horrors in the world today.
I had done a ‘tribute to the holocaust victims and survivors’ run on our final day in the city. And have been wanting to do a photo blog since then. Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and it sort of seemed apt to type it out.
My run started in Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter.
It was largely destroyed during the war by the Nazis, later left a crumbling ruin by the Soviet communists. It was revived in the late 80s and is now a buzzing cultural hub—dotted not just with pre-war Jewish remnants, but also new Jewish-themed restaurants, bars, bookstores and souvenir shops. As well as the Galicia Jewish Museum, which features a poignant photo exhibition portraying the decline of the Jewish presence in Poland.
A lot of Schindler’s List was also shot in Kazimierz. Just before our trip, we watched the movie again (and cried buckets). And it was sort of surreal to see some of the memorable sites from the movie, in front of our eyes.
For example, this is Mrs Dresner’s Courtyard and Stairs. Apparently such courtyards were typical for the Jewish districts of the early twentieth century. And the archway, now called Schindler’s Passage, provided some of the most memorable visuals in the movie.
The site now houses quirky shops and also showcases a photo tribute. This quotation from the exhibition was especially touching.
From Kazimierz, I ran towards and across the river, to get to Schindler’s Factory. The factory now hosts two museums: the Museum of Contemporary Art and a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków.
The latter houses a permanent exhibition, Kraków under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945, telling the gripping and horrifying story of Krakow during World War II. We had done a guided tour there the previous evening and it had left a mark.
The museum layout and display is extremely interesting. Each room is meticulously arranged to resemble a very specific place during the period—a street, a hairdresser’s salon, a labor camp, a railway station, a room in the ghetto, Schindler’s office… It is like stepping into history.
From there, I ran to the Krakow Ghetto. It is now a residential complex. When you see it now you wouldn’t think of it as a site of persecution. But a remnant of the stone wall built around the ghetto, lives on to remind you of its grim past.
Close to it is the Ghetto Heroes Square memorial, which is where I finished my run. Back in the day this was the Umschlagplatz or holding area where the Jews were assembled before being deported to concentration camps or death camps. Since the Jews had carried their furniture with them when the ghetto opened in March 1941 and since the furniture was dumped here when the ghetto was liquidated in March 1943, the architects that designed this memorial envisaged the whole square as a monument to the dead, using sculpted empty chairs to symbolise their absence.
It was eerie and it was heart rending. The emptiness forces you to take a moment and remember their suffering, the horror of it all.
How can a human can treat another human like this?
Then you look around you and ask, when will we ever learn?”