During the inter-war years, with a well-established Jewish community of around 60,000, the city of Kraków was a centre of Jewish cultural life. Ironically, however, the ghetto that became the last home for tens of thousands of Polish Jews was not located in the historically Jewish area of the city; thus, although the ghetto itself was destroyed, the Jewish neighbourhood remained intact. The city of Kraków today houses one of the few surviving historical Jewish areas in Poland, although the Jews themselves were murdered or emigrated long ago.
The Kraków ghetto was officially established in March 1941. Two major camps were constructed nearby: the labour camp Plaszow, and the death camp Auschwitz, only forty miles away. After the initial occupation, the Jews were harassed and abused and then made to resettle outside of the city. About 15,000 were left behind, to be used as forced labour.
Inside the ghetto, people were crammed together in harsh conditions, with little food. Those who were able to work were employed in factories set up in the ghetto or surrounding areas of the city; the most famous of these was the factory of Oskar Schindler, whose efforts to save the lives of his Jewish workers were made famous in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List.