Kazimierz was founded as a separate town by King Casimir the Great in 1335 and was named after this king. In the late 15th century Jews from Krakow were moved there. THey established a separate Jewish town with their houses, businesses, synagogues and cemeteries. The character of this city, later a district of Krakow changed dramatically with the World War II. Nazi moved Jewish population of Krakow to a ghetto, which was established outside of original Kazimierz. As a consequence of the holocaust two thirds of the residents of Kazimierz died either in the ghetto or in the extermination camps. Only six thousands Polish Jews came back to live there but many of them subsequently emigrated to the USA, Israel etc.
During the forty years of communism Kazimierz was a strange place, it became inhabited by a lower class of society since its original inhabitants perished. It was not a safe place to be during the evenings or at night. Nobody really cared for Kazimierz - since the original population of the lively Kazimierz was gone. Nazis did not completely destroyed the town, even the cemeteries were still there as well as majority of synagogues, but the Krakow city government did not do anything to improve the conditions of the aging houses. At least no any historical objects were destroyed deliberately since nothing new was built there. Many houses, although partly devastated kept its beauty and history, some Jewish cemeteries were left almost intact since the war as like the time forgot about it. The access to one of these cemeteries was only available through the courtyard of another house. It was strange and charming - to see this old forgotten world in the middle of the town.
Only the original center of the Jewish district (at Szeroka Street) was kept more or less in order since the Jewish branch of historical museum was established in the so called Old Synagogue (Stara Boznica). The Remu'h synagogue was serving cult functions and the old cemetery was available for visitors.
Through all these years Kazimierz kept its specific charm in spite of being forgotten. I loved walking through Kazimierz's streets (during the daytime) with my friends and visiting guests, especially since it was away from main tour-roads but still very close to the center of historic Krakow. The real transformation of Kazimierz started with the change of political system in Poland in late eighties. With the help of the Jewish community all around the world many long-neglected buildings were renovated, among them also the synagogues. The Jewish Festival (June/July) is being held now for over ten years. The festival as well as a popularity of the Spielberg Oscar-winning movie Schindler's List, which action takes place among Jewish community in Krakow brought a surge of visitors to this old Jewish town.
The Kazimierz Jewish population would be probably never fully recovered but there is quite an effort to endure that its culture and memory would be revived. Many charming restaurants were created recently in some of them hungry tourists can listen to the music and songs performed by Jewish, or Slavic-Jewish music bands. Recently, when I visited Krakow, my friends took me again to Kazimierz, stating that there is no any other place like it - with a charming and entertaining atmosphere during the evening hours. What a change! From the almost scary district at night to one of the best kept places in the whole Royal city of Krakow!
* This article is illustrated with a couple of pictures from Kazimierz done by Pieter Pluijgers from Holland, who is also enchanted by Krakow and Kazimierz.
I recommend a book written by Roman Vishniac, Elie Wiesel entitled: Jews in Poland, A Vanished World