Howaroy­al­gift­gavetheKrakow

Six years ago, Prince Charles promised to pro­vide a group of Pol­ish Jews with a place to come to­gether. Last Tues­day, he opened its new cen­tre to a sea of smiles

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY LEON SYMONSKRAKOW

ZOFIA RADIKOWSKA summed up the feel­ings of the Krakow Jewish com­mu­nity to­wards Prince Charles.

“So many peo­ple have been here in the past and made prom­ises that they would help us. They went away and never came back,” said the beam­ing 72-year-old aca­demic, who taught law at Krakow’s Jagiel­lonian Univer­sity — known as the Cam­bridge of Poland — un­til she re­tired.

“But Prince Charles has kept his word. I told him that it was so im­por­tant that he came back and kept his prom­ise. He said he was very pleased and happy that he could do it. There was such much joy in peo­ple’s eyes,” said Mrs Radikowska, af­ter she showed the heir to the throne and his wife around the se­niors’ club in the new Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tre that bore his name.

“We showed him all kinds of our ac­tiv­i­ties. He was very in­ter­ested to see what peo­ple were do­ing. He asked us about our prob­lems. I be­lieve he is a very friendly per­son who un­der­stands peo­ple.

“This was a great and his­toric day for the Jewish com­mu­nity in Krakow and for the whole of Poland,” she added.

In­deed it was. The streets out­side the smart new four-storey build­ing rang with laugh­ter and ex­cited chat­ter on Tues­day in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the royal visit and the cel­e­bra­tions that fol­lowed.

Not that long ago, and within the me­mory of some of those older cit­i­zens, the scrunch of Nazi jack­boots brought fear and ter­ror to those same streets.

Pen­sion­ers and school pupils, par­ents and chil­dren, Jew and Catholic, stood side by side bathed by the warm spring sun­shine and mar­velled at how the part­ner­ship of the Prince and World Jewish Re­lief had trans­formed a piece of scrub­land next to the Tem­pel Syn­a­gogue into the com­mu­nity’s new home.

Those in­vited to the open­ing queued pa­tiently to be screened by very tight Pol­ish se­cu­rity — the armed of­fi­cers at the gate were even check­ing a plate of sand­wiches loosely cov­ered with foil that were brought in by one cen­tre worker.

The Prince vis­ited Krakow in 2002. In the course of his trip, he met some of the el­derly mem­bers of the Jewish com­mu­nity and asked what he could do for them. On his re­turn, he was put in touch with WJR by Dame Vivien Duffield. What made this ini­tia­tive dif­fer­ent from any pre­vi­ous royal in­volve­ment in Jewish projects was that Prince Charles con­trib­uted some of his own money.

So Tues­day was a time for the com­mu­nity to say thank you — and they did it in style, show­ing off the range of ac­tiv­i­ties that the cen­tre will host.

The royal cou­ple’s guided tour be­gan, as ever, with pri­mary school­child­ren singing and danc­ing. Then the em­pha­sis shifted to the other end of the age scale, with the se­niors’ club.

Here, the Prince and Camilla joined in with an im­promptu English les­son and sifted through some of the dozens of pho­to­graphs laid out on ta­bles. Then they went on to eaves­drop briefly on a dis­cus­sion among some teenagers.

Af­ter per­form­ing the of­fi­cial open­ing, the Prince and Camilla did a mini­walk­a­bout, shak­ing hands and ac­cept­ing small gifts as they crossed the street for a re­cep­tion in the grounds of the nearby Kupa syn­a­gogue.

Once inside, they were en­gulfed in a sea of well-wish­ers and, in the course of the last hour of the three sched­uled for the event, stopped to ex­change a few words with al­most ev­ery­one inside. One of them was Wlodz­imierz Smi­etan­ski, who fea­tured in a JC ar­ti­cle when the scheme was un­veiled five years ago.

Now 88, he an­nounced proudly: “The Prince re­mem­bered that I was one of those who met him when he was here and we talked about fa­cil­i­ties for war vet­er­ans, that we suf­fered from lack of a place to meet.

“We hope that this house will now

PHOTO: PA PHO­TOS

Prince Charles with chil­dren at the newly-opened Krakow Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tre

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