Tadeusz Pankiewicz’s Pharmacy in Kraków Ghetto

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Pharmacy in the Kraków Ghetto – this was the title of Tadeusz Pankiewicz’s memoirs of the years 1941-1943, published just after the end of the war. He was the owner of the pharmacy at the Zgody Square, the only Pole in the Kraków ghetto, and a witness to the suffering and murder of Cracovian Jews. Today, the former pharmacy is home to a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków.

The book was published in 1947; soon after fell a long silence on the wartime fates of Cracovian Jews, the ghetto, and Pankiewicz himself. The Eagle Pharmacy was nationalised and moved to a different location, and its former venue was turned into a bar. The square was given a new name of Bohaterów Getta [Heroes of the Ghetto – trans.], and for half a century it was a site of a dingy bus terminus. The bar was finally closed in 1981, and a memorial room with a small exhibition on the ghetto and the pharmacy was opened in 1983. It was granted museum status in 2003 as a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków. Its expansion was supported by major figures, including Roman Polański and Steven Spielberg. The square was renovated, and in 2005 it become home to an installation of chair sculptures, commemorating the liquidation of the ghetto, designed by Cracovian architects Piotr Lewicki and Kazimierz Łatak.

Almost a decade later came a time to modernise the exhibition dedicated to the murder of Kraków’s Jews and to Pankiewicz, who passed away in 1993. His recollections have been used as the basis for the updated exhibition. The pharmacist wasn’t just a passive witness or chronicler of the dramatic events taking place in the ghetto. In 1983, he was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal for his actions to protect the ghetto inhabitants. The pharmacy has been updated to resemble its layout and décor from the days of the occupation; in those days, the shelves and equipment for making and selling medicines were used as a cover for secret meetings, with the pharmacy acting as a contact point for transferring provisions and medication to those living in the ghetto, for falsifying documents, and as shelter. Pankiewicz lived in a little room at the back, and he was assisted in his work – both official and underground – by three trusted pharmacists working on a rota basis.

We are able to learn more about the form and scale of this help from recollections of witnesses recorded towards the end of the last century, and discover various “recipes for survival” in the ghetto. For many year after the war, Pankiewicz maintained correspondence with people he helped survive, now scattered across the globe; and yet he remained anonymous in Poland for decades. These letters form a part of the exhibition. There are also recently found and identified photographs, allowing us to see the faces of many people involved with the pharmacy’s history, previously known by name only.

The modernised museum at the Bohaterów Getta Square, the exhibition at the Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, and the presentation at the former seat of the Gestapo at Pomorska Street form a Museum Memory Tail, recalling Kraków under the occupation and the fates of the city’s inhabitants.

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