Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp
The Płaszów (Polish pronunciation: [ˈpwaʂuf]) or Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager Plaszow) was a Nazi German labour and concentration camp built by the SS in Płaszów, a southern suburb of Kraków (now part of Podgórze district), soon after the German invasion of Poland and the subsequent creation of the semi-colonial district of General Government across occupied south-central Poland.
Originally intended as a forced labour camp, the Płaszów concentration camp, was erected on the grounds of two former Jewish cemeteries (including the New Jewish Cemetery) and populated with prisoners during the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto which took place on 13–14 March 1943, with first deportations of the Barrackenbau Jews from the Ghetto beginning 28 October 1942. In 1943 the camp was expanded and turned into one of many KL concentration camps.
The camp was notorious for horrible terrors. Commanding the camp was Amon Göth, an SS commandant from Vienna who was sadistic in his treatment and killing of prisoners; "Witnesses say he would never start his breakfast without shooting at least one person." On 13 March 1943, he personally oversaw the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto nearby, forcing its Jewish inhabitants deemed capable of work into the KL Plaszow camp. Those who were declared unfit for work were either sent to Auschwitz or shot on the spot. Under him were the staff of 206 Ukrainian SS personnel from Trawniki, followed by 600 Germans of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (1943–1944), and a few SS women, including Gertrud Heise, Luise Danz and Alice Orlowski. The female guards treated the prisoners as brutally as the men: "When we were loaded on the train in Plaszów, an SS woman hit me on the head. They were so vicious and brutal and sadistic, more than men. I think because some of them were women and you expect kindness, it was shocking. But of course, some were fat and big and ugly."
On 13 September 1944, Goeth was relieved of his position and charged by the SS with theft of Jewish property (which belonged to the state, according to Nazi legislation), failure to provide adequate food to the prisoners under his charge, violation of concentration camp regulations regarding the treatment and punishment of prisoners, and allowing unauthorised access to camp personnel records by prisoners and non-commissioned officers. Camp administration was assumed by SS-Obersturmführer Arnold Büscher.
The camp was a slave Arbeitslager ("labour camp"), supplying manpower to several armament factories and a stone quarry. The death rate in the camp was very high. Many prisoners, including many children and women, died of typhus, starvation, and executions. Płaszów camp became particularly infamous for both individual and mass shootings carried out there. Using Hujowa Górka, a large hill close to the camp commonly used for executions, some 8,000 deaths took place outside the camp’s fences with prisoners trucked in 3 to 4 times weekly. The covered lorries from Kraków used to arrive in the morning. The condemned were walked into a trench of the Hujowa Górka hillside and shot, and their bodies then covered with dirt, layer upon layer. In early 1944, all corpses were exhumed and burnt in a heap to hide the evidence. Witnesses later attested that 17 truckloads of human ashes were removed from the burning site and scattered over the area.
All documents pertaining to the mass killings and executions were entrusted by commandant Göth to a high ranking female member of the SS, Kommandoführerin Alice Orlowski. She held these documents in her possession until the end of the war, then allegedly destroyed them. Orlowski was known for her whippings, especially of young women across their eyes. At roll call she would walk through the lines of women and whip them.
During July and August 1944, a number of transports of prisoners left KL Plaszow for Auschwitz, Stutthof, Flossenburg, Mauthausen, and other camps. In January 1945, the last of the remaining inmates and camp staff left the camp on a death march to Auschwitz, including several female SS guards. Many of those who survived the march were killed upon arrival. When the Nazis realized the Soviets were already approaching Kraków, they completely dismantled the camp, leaving an empty field in its place. The bodies that were buried there earlier in various mass graves were all exhumed and burned on site. On 20 January 1945, the Red Army had reached only a tract of barren land.
The area which held the camp now consists of sparsely wooded hills and fields, with one large memorial to all the victims and two smaller monuments (one to the Jewish victims specifically, and another to the Hungarian Jewish victims) at one perimeter of where the camp once stood. The Jewish cemetery, with tombstones removed by the Nazis (except for one tombstone) stands on the side of the hill at the eastern end of the camp, quite near the Grey house. Amon Goeth's villa remains there. An additional small monument located near the opposite end of the site stands in memory of the first execution of Polish (non-Jewish) prisoners in 1939.
A version of the camp is featured in the movie Schindler's List (1993), about the life of Oskar Schindler. As the Plaszów area is now a nature preserve, the director Steven Spielberg built a camp replica in the Liban Quarry, some hundred meters away.
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