KRAKOW — Seventy years after the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto, the famed Pharmacy Under the Eagle reopened this month after a major renovation.
The only gentile business the Nazis allowed to continue operating in the Jewish ghetto, the pharmacy had served both gentile Poles and Jews before the war. Its owner, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, began running the business in 1933, and persuaded the Germans to let it remain open, despite an order relocate to the non-Jewish part of the city.
Pankiewicz, who was later named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, would receive permits for himself and his staff to enter and exit the area to work. In a ghetto of 15,000 prisoners, they were the only non-Jews.
Situated on Krakow’s Ghetto Heroes Square, the Pharmacy Under the Eagle kept residents alive by distributing medication, as well as tranquilizers to help keep hidden children quiet during Gestapo raids. The pharmacy also provided medical care and hair dye to help disguise escapees, and became a trusted location for meeting, exchanging information and hiding. Pankiewicz, who died in 1993, cultivated good relations with German officers, who would maintain a largely hands-off approach to the pharmacy, not knowing it was being used to safeguard Torahs and other religious material in a secret vault.
Pankiewicz wrote about his experience after the war in “The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy,” published in 1947 and released in Israel and the United States. He also served as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials, and would recount his story in a filmed interview with “Shoah” director Claude Lanzmann.
The pharmacy closed in 1967, and shortly later was turned into a restaurant. In 1983, the site became a branch of the Historical Museum of Krakow.
Still run by the museum, the Pharmacy Under the Eagle has become a pilgrimage site, and is one of the few elements of the ghetto that remains.
“The new exhibition will focus on the senses,” museum historian Monika Bednarek told the Krakow Post. “We want visitors to experience the story of Tadeusz Pankiewicz through sight, sound and even smell.”
One of the renovation’s major goals was to re-create the interior as it looked in the 1940s, based on photographs from the period. The space features replicas of furniture and pharmaceutical supplies, as well as original items on loan from the city’s Pharmacy Museum.
The space has also been enlarged with new rooms in a neighboring building, which has enabled the pharmacy’s former preparation room to become part of the display.
The new space describes the pharmacy’s role during the war, including through recordings of ghetto survivors who speak of the hope and practical help that Pankiewicz and his co-workers provided. It also offers information about the history of Krakow’s Jewish community, which numbered roughly 70,000 before the war.
“People connected to the pharmacy and their stories had been somewhat anonymous,” Bednarek said. “Now they will come out of the shadows and speak to us personally.”
Although not many of Pankiewicz’s personal possessions have survived, some objects have gone on display, including letters that survivors wrote to him after the war.
The museum’s official opening, held March 16, featured speakers including city officials and ghetto survivors, as well as a concert of Jewish music.
Grazyna Zawada contributed reporting.