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Raphael “Felek” Scharf

Raphael “Felek” Scharf

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It does not take much to set an old Cracovian musing, by the waters of the Thames, about his old city: an odd word, somebody’s name, an echo of a melody, a taste of a madeleine. … For me, Poland of those days meant, almost exclusively, Cracow. I did not go to “Kutno or Sieradz,” I did not visit Warsaw; whatever for? After holidays in nearby Zakopane, Zawoja or Rabka, the return to Cracow was always joyful. I presume that those less privileged who lived in Lwow, Lodz or Warsaw had similar local patriotism but I find it hard to imagine. The town must have had a singular charm which endeared it to its inhabitants, since true old Cracovians, wherever you find them (not all that often in Cracow itself!) speak of it with such warmth and affection (even those who appear quite indifferent to the rest of the country). …

I am an authentic, prewar Homo Cracoviensis – and a Jew, to boot. A Cracovian Jew who is ready to rush to Cracow, in weather fair or foul, to respond to every call from here. …

And so I come back here, after “years stormy and turbulent,” to cast an eye over the landscape of my youth and my childhood, where every stone is laden with sweet memories, to walk through the streets where our fates intermingled, where the Street of Corpus Christi crossed with the Street of Rabbi Meisels, and the Street of Saint Sebastian with that of Berek Joselewicz; to tramp through the alleyways named after Esther, Jacob and Isaac – where else in the Diaspora were streets named after the biblical patriarchs? To walk again down Koletek Street towards the sports ground of the Makkabi Club, Orzeszkowa Street to Nowy Dziennik, Miodowa Street to the Tempel prayer-house, Brzozowa Street to the Hebrew School. To pause in front of the synagogues – the Alterschul, Popper’s, Kupa, Remuh – one could deduce from the number of synagogues that the Jews of Cracow were singularly pious. Well – many were; but there were also those who – as described by Isaac Deutscher, the son of a Cracow printer and a famous biographer of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky – there were those who, like himself, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, went to the grave of the holy Rabbi Isserles and ate a ham sandwich – to spite him and their parents.

(Excerpts from Poland, What I Have to Do with Thee… Essays Without Prejudice, 1996)

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Raphael “Felek” Scharf

In this house lived Rafael “Felek” Scharf (18 June 1914, Kraków – 16 Sept 2003, London), writer, essayist, journalist, co-founder of the Institute for Polish Jewish Studies at Oxford, the Jewish Quarterly, and Polin Polish-Jewish studies annual. Referred to as “the guardian of Cracovian and Jewish memory, … the last witness, who strives to record his Jewish-Cracovian particularity” (Jan Błoński), Scharf significantly contributed to the development of the dialog between “the Two Saddest Nations on Earth” as he described Poles and Jews in one of his essays. A graduate of the Hebrew School in Kraków and the Law School at Jagiellonian University, Scharf worked as a lawyer and journalist, before emigrating to England in 1938. Extremely closely affiliated with Kraków till the end of his life. His essay collection, Poland, What I Have to Do With Thee… Essays Without Prejudice (1999), is a valuable resource on the prewar Kraków and Polish-Jewish matters. In 1993 he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.   

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