Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Poland -- Tablet magazine on Krakow (mentioning Virtually Jewish)

Crowd gathers for the final concert. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Though I was in Krakow for the last few days of the Festival of Jewish Culture, I haven't (yet...) contributed to the annual crop of articles about it... but I was happy to see this nice mention of Virtually Jewish in the "Letter from Krakow" piece by Roger Bennett run in Tablet Magazine.

Krakow is a town in which the Holocaust is everywhere—thanks to the battery of brightly colored wagons, little bigger than golf carts, that litter the streets, energetically competing to lure visitors onto a series of niche tours they market via menus emblazoned on their sides. Trips to Auschwitz, “Kazimierz Ghetto,” and “Schindler’s Factory” are advertised alongside “Pope’s Krakow” and Wawel Castle as if they are all great days out for the whole family, despite the fact that while the last two are national jewels, the former are scars that stretch across the heart of the city. 65,000 Jews lived in Krakow before the war, amounting to 25 percent of the population. They now number a mere 200. Their absence hangs heavy, and if these tour carts were the sole custodians of their memory, they would surely soon be forgotten. But over the past 19 years, the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival has provided a critical public space for its audience to grapple with the stains of their history. This tangled phenomenon has been well-documented by the remarkable Ruth Ellen Gruber in her book Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe and our first encounter with it on this evening served to underline just how complex a task it can be.

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