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Plaszow Concentration Camp in Krakow 

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KL Plaszow, Krakow’s Nazi Camp for Slave Labor

Krakow’s wartime concentration camp in the city’s right-bank district of Plaszow was hell on earth even if in terms of the sheer volume of atrocities it paled in comparison with such conglomerates of the nazi death industry as Auschwitz or Majdanek. At its peak capacity the Plaszow camp incarcerated 25,000 inmates at one time: men, women, and children. In total, over three years of its existence, roughly 150,000 people suffered imprisonment here – Jews of Krakow and from Poland’s other cities as well as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium, and Romania but also numerous Poles and Romanies. They were subjected to inhumane treatment, hellish living conditions, diseases, starvation, grueling slave labor, frequent beatings, and torture, and many fell victim to brutal killings. More than 80,000 of the Plaszow inmates died before the end of World War II, most in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Origins of the Plaszow camp dated back to the summer of 1940 when the German occupation authorities set up in the area a forced-labor camp for the Polish prisoners. The proper concentration camp was built in Plaszow in 1942. On January 14, 1945 the last group of inmates left for Auschwitz.

 

Geography of Krakow’s Plaszow concentration camp.

The concentration camp took up the southwest outskirts of Plaszow district which is part of Krakow’s Podgorze borough on the right bank of Wisla river. The Plaszow proper – the Polish correct spelling Płaszów, pronounced Puashoof – lies to the northeast behind Krakow Plaszow train station at a crucial railroad junction.

The KL Plaszow concentration camp was situated just four kilometers or so southeast from Krakow’s Rynek Glowny central square. At first, it was set up on grounds of two adjoining Jewish cemeteries, one at 25 Jerozolimska street, another at 8 Abrahama street. Later on the camp was expanded and eventually its area peaked at about 197 acres that stretched north of today’s Kamienskiego street to Jerozolimska street and east of Swoszowicka street to Heltmana street. Since the end of World War II the site has been left undeveloped in commemoration of the martyrdom of the KL Plaszow inmates.

Almost no trace of the Plaszow camp has survived except few nondescript buildings such as the former villa of the commandant. The nazis have enough time and spared no effort to liquidate the Plaszow concentration camp thoroughly in the fall of 1944. The inmates were made to dismantle all timber shacks that served as their living quarters as well as other facilities, bodies were exhumed from mass graves and cremated on the site with ashes trucked away. Nowadays the place looks like a wasteland but the municipality plans to turn it soon into an ingenious commemorative park. 

Points of interest

Massive granite monument towers over Kamienskiego street, one of Krakow’s busy arteries, on the southern edge of the former Plaszow concentration camp. Designed by accomplished architect Witold Ceckiewicz, it was erected in 1964 to commemorate the victims of all nationalities. It bears an inscription in Polish that reads ‘In homage to martyrs murdered by the Nazi perpetrators of genocide in the years 1941 to 1945’. 

Another memorial, a boulder with a plaque, is situated on the sites’ northeast edge, at Jerozolimska street. 

Former ‘villa’ of the camp commandant stands in disrepair at 22 Heltmana street. The gray building at 3 Jerozolimska street once served as a barracks housing the camp’s detachment of the SS troops while its basement contained a torture chamber. 

An inanimate nature reserve called Rezerwat Bonarka abuts on the monument at Kamienskiego street. The 2.3-hectare area extending west to Swoszowicka street has been turned into a reserve in 1961 to protect the limestone rocks that once formed the seabed of a Jurassic lagoon. 

The Plaszow concentration camp adjoined Kamieniolom Liban, an old limestone quarry started in 1884. The now derelict quarry, situated west of the Plaszow site up Swoszowicka street, was turned into a penal camp of the nazi ‘construction service’ – Das Straflager des Baudienstes im Generalgouvernement. Between 1942 and 1944 its inmates worked in ghastly conditions suffering from exhaustion, starvation, maltreatment, sunstroke in summers and exposure in winters; many died. Wartime victims of the Liban camp are commemorated by a monument of 1948 but otherwise there is no trace of the camp and the abandoned quarry might be dangerous for trespassers. 

Prehistoric Mound of Krak, one of Krakow’s mysterious ancient barrows, overlooks this part of the city from the top of Krzemionki hill just north of the Plaszow camp and straight above the Liban quarry.

Access to the site of the Plaszow concentration camp  

Undulating grassland once occupied by the Plaszow camp stretches between Krakow’s two thruways, Kamienskiego street and Wielicka street, that meet slightly to southeast of the place. Driving from the city center it’s more convenient to take Wielicka and turn right to Jerozolinska street (the third side street after the overpass at Powstancow Wielkopolskich expressway). 

The former site of the Plaszow concentration camp can be easily reached by public transport. There are several tram and bus lines linking the area with downtown Krakow. The nearest stops are Dworcowa at Wielicka street and Bonarka at Kamienskiego street. The former seems more convenient as trams numbers 3, 6, 13, 24, 29, and 50 plus bus 502 connect it directly with central Krakow. The latter, at Kamienskiego street, is a request stop of buses 103, 144, 164, 173, and 179. 

Obviously there is no admission fee for and the site may be roamed freely at any time but some caution should be exercised as the place remains practically unattended. 

Plaszow: Museum Memorial Site in the making

In January 2017 the municipality of Krakow, the Jewish Religious Community of Krakow, and the City of Krakow Historical Museum signed an agreement that paves the way for the creation of the Museum Memorial Site commemorating victims of KL Plaszow. Hopefully, it will open on the grounds of the former Nazi concentration camp before 2021, if everything goes well.

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