Plaszow Concentration Camp
PLASZOW CONCENTRATION CAMP LOCATION
Plaszow camp today (generally well-known due to the “Schindler’s List” movie) can be described as a memorial park with some pre-war buildings and remnants of the camp facilities. The site is 5 km far from the Old town of Krakow and is accessible by public transport. Tramlines №3 and 24 connect the location with the eastern part of the city center and its route passes through the territory of the former Krakow ghetto in Podgórze. It takes appr. 20 minutes to get to the site with 10-15 minutes periodicity. The closest tram stop is called Cemetery Podgorski.
PLASZOW CONCENTRATION CAMP MAP
Once you get to the Cemetery Podgorski stop, you should adventure another 300 meters to the starting point of the “Jerozolimska” street. The street has remained its pre-war title and leads us to the place where the Plaszow main gate once stood. “Jerozolimska” is the very street, which was lined with the demolished Jewish gravestones by the Germans and has become a part of history as the “SS Strasse”. The former territory of KL Plaszow today is on the right-hand side. The modern accommodation buildings on the left side of the road mark the site where the SS barracks once stood. I’ve made a combination of the Plaszow concentration camp map with the modern Google maps variant to reveal the sites of the Plaszow location.
- Sorting facilities
- Plaszow Main Gate
- SS officer’s club
- SS headquarters (Kommandantur)
- SS barracks
- Old / Grey House
- Funeral parlor ruins
- The Old Cemetery of the Jewish Commune in Podgórze
- Plaszow Roll-call area / Apellplatz
- “C Dolek” execution site
- “Hujeva Horka” execution site
- Liban Granite Quarry
- The Monument to the Victims of the Crime of 10 September 1939
- Gravestone of Sarah Schenirer
- Plaszow Commandant’s Villa / Amon Goeth Villa
PLASZOW CONCENTRATION CAMP TODAY
PLASZOW MAIN GATE AND ‘SORTING’ FACILITIES
The former sorting facilities were located just outside the Plaszow concentration camp territory, next to the main gate. During the winter of 1943-1944 camp inmates had to construct an additional railway line, a branch passage from the Krakow Plaszow train station, which transported future prisoners straight to the entrance to the camp. The former railway tracks have not survived till now. This short line was constructed between the “Jerozolimska” street and the “sorting” facilities. Prisoners had to give all their belongings brought by train, values, and even their outwear. Ruins of the former watch-house and lengthy warehouse remain the memory of the facilities, which had collected personal belongings from the inmates, and made a sorting and further transportation through the General-Government.
Next to the unloading Plaszow train station and warehouses, opposite the SS Officer’s Club and further, along the “Jerozolimska” street, the Main Gate to the Plaszow concentration camp was located. Thousands of prisoners had made their last journey to the labor camp through this entrance, which was guarded with German preciseness.
SS OFFICERS’ CLUB, HEADQUARTERS, AND BARRACKS
Two adjacent buildings at Jerozolimska 8 and 10 are the Polish pre-war buildings, preserved, along with the Gray House and the villa of Commandant Göth, further down the street. During the war, the buildings were located inside the perimeter of the Plaszow camp, beyond the Main Gate on the left side. Months before moving to the Red House (Commandant’s villa), Amon Leopold Goth had lived here. Then, the Germans located the main post of the camp guard here, with a telephone switchboard and radio, where the SS guards could listen to news from the front lines by means of the German Ministry of Propaganda, one led by Joseph Goebbels. The two buildings were used as an officer’s club for guards, where they, among other places, had spent their ”free time”. Today another building was added to the right pre-war one, the third floor, and another building on the right, which was not there at the time of Plaszow.
SS barracks for the guards had once stood further the Jerozolimska street (the Germans had renamed it Hauptstrasse), opposite the infamous Grey House. Modern accommodation facilities stand here today. The Former SS barracks were constructed as a rectangular building 105 by 55 meters, which was called Wachkaserne, built in the summer of 1943. Architect Diana Reiter was killed for the suspension of the construction of this very building in August 1943 and not in March and not for the prisoner’s barracks as was depicted in “Schindler’s List” movie. The Germans had constructed a high watching tower on its eastern side, distant from the Main Gate, which once allowed them to control the entrance to the camp and most of its territory. Wachkaserne had its inner courtyard and also four barracks for the Ukrainian guards, separated from the German part of the building.
On the opposite side of the road, just in from the SS Officer’s club, the U-shaped SS Headquarters (Kommandatur) was located. Germans used to manage the everyday forming-ups within its courtyard. In this respect, on their everyday way from and into the Plaszow labor camp prisoners were due to watch the daily routine of their torturers. During the expansion of the building, part of its lateral wings was dismantled, but the work was not completed until the liquidation of the camp in 1945. In 1944 the Germans had initiated the construction of the new much bigger (60*50 meters) Headquarters (Kommandatur) next to the pre-war Wielicka street, but it was never built. The SS hospital for the guards once stood on the hill next to the Headquarters.
THE GREY HOUSE (OLD HOUSE)
The pre-war building, built in the 1920s years before the occupation, was used as the administration of the New Jewish cemetery, just behind it at that time. Adolf Siódmak, the architect was deported from Krakow by Nazis in 1940 and died in the Gross-Rosen concentration camp at the end of the Second World War. With the arrival of the Germans and the initiation of the Plaszow concentration camp, the building of the Grey House Plaszow retained its administrative use, now for the SS. The building turned out to be located within the administrative heart of the camp, at the intersection of Hauptstrasse, Bergstrasse, and ”SS-Strasse” streets renamed in such a manner by the Germans.
Here was the office of Amon Goeth, the camp commandant. According to the testimonies of the survivors, he used to fire from one of the windows to hit the prisoners of the camp, which is often attributed to the Commandant’s villa further down the street. High SS officers, such as Hujar, Zdrojewski, Landsdorfer, Ekert, and Glaser lived here during the occupation. In August 1943, the Germans equipped a prison in the basement of the building with solitary cells, which have become history as the “standing bunkers” (Stehbunker). Their width was so small that the prisoner had to stand since he could not sit on the floor. Prisoners were also tortured here, and iron grids on the basement windows, preserved from those times, did not leave a chance to escape. Speaking about Plaszow today, the Grey House is accommodated by the locals. Still, for some years there has been a discussion on making the building a part of the Plaszow memorial complex and opening it to the public, reconstructing the premises as a museum.
FUNERAL PARLOR RUINS
Just next to the former SS headquarters (Kommandatur) we can still manage a pathway, which had once separated two Jewish cemeteries. The New Jewish Cemetery, whose administration was located in the Grey House, and the Old Jewish Cemetery Podgórze, from which tombstones will later be taken to humiliatingly layout the so-called “SS road”. In 1920, the local Jewish community began the construction of a magnificent funeral parlor for the needs of the Old Jewish Cemetery. The building was completed in 1932 and was a majestic example of the Byzantine style. The funeral parlor had three domes, with the central one 25 meters high. It was equipped with a morgue, embalming rooms, a little room and prayer closet, and a room for ceremonies.
With the arrival of the Germans, Amon Goeth, the commandant of the Plaszow forced labor camp ordered to set up a horse stable and a night house for pigs and cows within the Funeral parlor. All valuables and decorative elements, at the same time, were looted. In the spring of 1944, Amon Goeth initiated a kind of sarcastic performance for the local occupying authorities and the officers among the SS guards. The massive structure was blown up in several stages. At the same time, the Germans intended to preserve the western wing to locate a pumping station in the future and, in this form, the building met the end of the war, and was completely destroyed in subsequent years. Walking across the Plaszow camp Today, massive concrete blocks are the only remains of a pre-war building 25 meters high.
THE OLD CEMETERY OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN PODGORZE
Before the war, two Jewish cemeteries were located on the site of the future Plaszow concentration camp. The older one was founded back in 1887 and received the name Podgorze from the town, which was located here and was not part of Krakow at that time. A New Jewish Cemetery appeared nearby only in 1932 when this territory had become a part of Krakow. With the arrival of the Germans, an order was given to destroy the Old Cemetery, and tombstones from Jewish graves were used as a material for lining up the main roads within the camp. Of all the gravestones, only one has been preserved, with the name of Chaim Jakub Abrahamer, buried here back in 1932. Since the barracks were built over the cemetery during the time of Plaszow, its modern appearance is a result of recent archaeological excavations as we see Plaszow today on tour.
KL PLASZOW ROLL-CALL AREA (APELLPLATZ)
In March 1943, on the eve of the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, the Germans used steam excavators to dig two large pits right in the middle of the future Plaszow labor camp. The bodies of victims who were killed during the liquidation of the ghetto, mainly women, old people, and children from ghetto B (who were defined as ”unfit for work”) were dumped into these pits. Later, the Germans continued to execute the weak ones. Jews were brought to the edge of one of the pits and shot in the back of the head. Towards the summer of 1943, when the Germans had chosen ”Hujowa Górka” as the preferred place for mass executions, these initial pits were covered with earth and the site was leveled. The number of these first victims of mass killings, buried in two pits, is estimated at 3000 bodies. Thus, the sadly remembered Apellplatz was created. Similar to the other camps such as Dachau, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen, A platform for roll-calls, selection, and medical examination of the Praszow prisoners. An area of about 100*100 meters became an important site of the camp. Recent archaeological excavations at Apellplatz have revealed the exact location of the two pits and the remains of the bodies of the victims of mass killings performed in the spring and summer of 1943.
‘C DOLEK’ MASS EXECUTION SITE
At the end of the 18th century, when this part of Poland was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Austrians built a number of fortifications as a part of the fortification system of the city of Podgozge and Krakow. At this very place, the Szaniec FS-22 fortification was erected in 1855-1856. During 1943-1944 the hill had become a site of mass executions of prisoners who were designated as incapable of work, rule-breakers, or simply chosen by the guards. In addition to the prisoners of the Plaszow, prisoners from two Krakow prisons of the occupation period were also shot here.
After the executions, the Jews were ordered to collect the bodies and burn them on an open fire, taking wood from the neighboring woodworking workshops. Some bodies were initially buried within a hexagonal pit. The exact number of victims who were shot at the site and on the ”Hujowa Górka” as well cannot be determined precisely and historians generally agree on the figure of 8000 victims. In the summer of 1944, when it had become clear that the Red Army would occupy nazi Krakow before the end of the year, the SS initiated the concealment of traces of crimes. Both here and within the ”Hujowa Górka”, prisoners from Sondercommando dug up bodies and burned them in open furnaces. The first works on the exhumation of the remains have been carried out immediately after the war in 1946.
After the war, a number of memorials were erected on the ”C Dolek” hill. The most famous architectural composition, established in 1964, is called ‘Pomnik Ofiar Faszyzmu’ (“Monument against Fascism”). Huge inscription in Polish on the back of the monument states: W hołdzie męczennikom pomordowanym przez hitlerowskich ludobójców w latach 1943–1945 (” In memory of the martyrs killed during the German genocide of 1943-1945 ‘). In addition to a large-scale monument, another three memorials have been erected at the ”C Dolek” mass execution site. One of them, a large stone obelisk, was erected by the Jewish community of Krakow to perpetuate the memory of all the Jewish victims of Plaszow. The second one, a stone slab, installed in 2000, pays tribute to the women from Hungary who arrived in Plaszow before being sent to find death in the Auschwitz death camp. And the newest monument was installed in 2012 and honors the memory of the soldiers of the Polish army and resistance, who were also killed in the Plaszow camp (Arbeitslager Plaszow) during the German occupation.
CHUJOWA GORKA MASS EXECUTION SITE
The infamous place of execution within the Plaszow concentration camp (Konzentrationslager Plaszow) had received its name ”Hujowa Górka” or ”Hujarowa Górka” or “Chujowa Gorka” (sometimes ”Kozia Górka”) due to camp slang. It combines an offensive word in Polish and the name of Albert Hujar, the cruelest camp warden among the SS. Hujar was the one who offered the place for the mass execution of Jews who arrived from the town of Bochnia (east of Krakow) in the summer of 1943. Before the war, an Austrian fortification of the 19th century dismantled in the 1930-s was located on a hill. After that, a large hexagonal pit remained here, with a circumference of up to 50 meters and a depth of up to 5 meters deep.
Starting from September 1943, ”Chujowa Gorka” had become the main place of mass executions of prisoners in Plaszow and was used, under the personal supervision of Albert Hujar and Amon Goeth until mid-February 1944. The practice of burning bodies on an open fire was tested here for the first time in December 1943. When by February 1944, after the most intense period of executions, the pit was already filled with bodies, the Germans shifted the focus of the massacres to a nearby hill, which became known as ”C Dolek”. The mass grave site on the ”Hujowa Górka” was leveled and the barracks were built. In the summer of 1944, an order was received to destroy the traces of the massacres on ”Chujowa Gorka” and on ”C Dolek” hill. Immediately after the war, a large wooden cross with barbed wire was erected at the site of the former massacre site and we can still observe it at Plaszow concentration camp today.
LIBAN GRANITE QUARRY
In 1873, the ‘’Liban and Ehrenpreis” mining company created an infrastructure for the extraction of limestone within this nature quarry. Its owners were two respected and wealthy Jewish families. At the time of the active exploitation of the quarry, even a railway line was tracked to its workshops in order to remove the extracted limestone with more efficiency. The presence of a quarry was one of the reasons for choosing a place to create a Plaszow labor camp in 1942. A number of the prisoners were occupied here, and the daily route through the main gate to bypass was an exhausting routine of work. Also, the SS and Kapo guards selected to monitor prisoners (often among criminals) often used to beat prisoners, and an unknown number of victims were killed right here, shot, or dropped down from abrupt cliffs of the quarry. The work was mainly occupied by the Poles and political prisoners, and the working day was divided into two shifts. From 6 am to 12 am and from 2 pm to 9 pm.
The Liban quarry was not used during the post-war period. It became well-known to the whole world as the movie location for Steven Spielberg’s legendary “Schindler’s List”. The film crew had recreated a smaller version of the Plaszow concentration camp, building up observation towers, 34 wooden barracks, a replica of the main gate of the camp, a copy of Amon Goth’s villa on the hill, and a stable. After the shooting, most of the scenery was dismantled. Today, the Liban quarry is immersed in greenery, and an increasing area of it is being covered with a swamp.
MONUMENT TO THE VICTIMS OF SEPTEMBER 10, 1939
German troops occupied the city of Krakow, abandoned by the Polish army, on September 6, 1939, just five days after the start of the Polish Campaign. Soon after, the unknown persons opened the railway car at the nearby Krakow Plaszow railway station and had stolen sacks of sugar. The Germans had decided to arrange a punitive action. Thirteen random local Poles, who had lived near the station, were captured. They were taken to the New Jewish Cemetery and shot right at one of its walls. During the years of the camp, barracks were built on the site of a mass shooting. In 1984, the local authorities installed a small memorial to the victims of the execution on September 10, 1939.
SARAH SCHENIRER GRAVESTONE
In 2005, a monument to a woman who had died in 1935 was restored in front of the Grey House. Sarah Schenirer initiated important changes in the system of public attitudes toward the education of women in Judaism, founding a whole movement and schools for girls, in which about 40,000 people had studied at the beginning of the Second World War. She was buried at the New Jewish Cemetery in 1935. With the beginning of the construction of the Plaszow camp, the cemetery was destroyed, and the gravestone of Schenirer was irretrievably lost. In 2005, a group of activists restored the gravestone supposedly on the spot where the original was before the war.
COMMANDANT’S VILLA / THE RED HOUSE (AMON GOETH’S VILLA)
After defining the boundaries of the Plaszow concentration camp, several streets turned up to be inside its perimeter: Jerozolimska, Abrahama, and Wiktora Hetmana. At Wiktora Hetmana 22 (Amon Goeth house address), there was a Polish house, which the Germans requisitioned as a villa for Amon Goeth, who moved here in September 1943. The delay was dictated by a personal order from Goeth to renew the house after its owners had been expelled. The commandant demanded to create a Viennese style since he was born and grew up in Vienna (Goeth had the NSDAP card № 510,764 since 1930 and the SS 43,673 membership in 1932. After the escape to Germany, he made his way back to Vienna after the March 1938 Anschluss). The decor was designed by the prisoners, and the villa included a bunker, an office, sports facilities, a bedroom, and a large kitchen. The Amon Goeth villa was accessible by means of two decorated iron gates, which have not been preserved to this day.
In 1944, it was planned to dig a large water reservoir of 60*10 meters near Amon Goeth’s house, and by the end of the war, only a large pit next to the villa remained of it. In 1944, an anti-aircraft tower with a heavy machine gun was built on a hill not far from the villa. A separate house for commandants’ dogs was also constructed next to the Red House. After the war, the building was returned to a Polish family that had owned it before the occupation. Already in the XXI century, the Red House was in disrepair, but in 2015 it was sold, and the new owner initiated a full-fledged renovation of the Amon Goeth villa, which was completed in 2017.
I am very grateful to war archives, museums, libraries, private collections, and writers for the historical photos in this article. To the extent that some author or a copyright owner may not want some of the above black-and-white photos to be used for educational purposes here, please contact me for adding credits or deleting the pictures from the article.