Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp

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Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp
Extermination through labour
PLASZOW-German concentration camp near Krakow PL.jpg
Nazi-German KL Plaszow concentration camp in 1942

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 General Government district across occupied south-central Poland.[1][2]

History[edit]

Major Nazi German concentration camps in occupied Poland (marked with squares)

Originally intended as a forced labour camp, the Płaszów concentration camp was constructed on the grounds of two former Jewish cemeteries (including the New Jewish Cemetery). It was populated with prisoners during the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto, which took place on 13–14 March 1943 with the first deportations of the Barrackenbau Jews from the Ghetto beginning 28 October 1942.[3] In 1943 the camp was expanded and turned into one of many KL concentration camps.

Camp operation[edit]

Structure and Function[edit]

The Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp was divided into multiple sections.[4] There was a separate area for camp personnel, work facilities, male prisoners, female prisoners, and a further subdivision between Jews and non-Jews. Although separated, men and women still managed to have contact with one another.[5][6] There was also a private barracks for the camp's Jewish police and their families.[7] While the primary function of the camp was forced labor, the camp was also the site of mass murder of inmates as well as prisoners brought in from the outside.[8] The main targets were the elderly and the sick. There were no gas chambers or crematoria, so mass murder was carried out by shootings.[9]

Personnel[edit]

Under Franz-Joseph Müller, the camp's second commandant, prisoners did not experience any shootings or hangings.[10] However, by 1943, the camp was notorious for horrible terrors.[11] Amon Göth, an SS commandant from Vienna, was the camp commandant at this point. He was sadistic in his treatment and killing of prisoners, for example:[2] "Witnesses say he would never start his breakfast without shooting at least one person."[3] On Göth's first day as camp commandant, he killed two Jewish policemen and made every camp inmate watch.[10] On 13 March 1943, he personally oversaw the liquidation of the nearby Kraków Ghetto, forcing those 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. People were told to leave their children behind and that they would be cared for.[12] In reality, they were all put in an orphans home and killed. Others snuck their children into the camp. If a prisoner tried to escape the camp, Göth shot 10 prisoners as a punishment.[8] Göth would also release his Great Danes on prisoners if he did not like the looks they gave him.[13] He oversaw a staff that was mostly non-German.[4] It consisted of 206 Ukrainian SS personnel from the Trawniki,[14] 600 Germans of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (1943–1944), and a few SS women, including Gertrud Heise,[15] Luise Danz and Alice Orlowski.[16]

The female guards treated the prisoners as brutally as the men: "When we were loaded on the train in Płaszów, 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."[17]

Jewish police were recruited by the camp personnel.[7] They were provided with double rations of thick soup, as opposed to the standard watery soup, and a full loaf of uncontaminated bread. However, the benefits came with cost of having to whip inmates with the whips that the Nazis provided.

On 13 September 1944, Göth 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.[18] Camp administration was assumed by SS-Obersturmführer Arnold Büscher. After Göth left, the inmates' diets improved. For example, prisoners received powdered milk and even eggs and sugar.[19]

Prisoner victims[edit]

Life in the Camp[edit]

The balcony of Amon Göth's house in Płaszów. Although Göth was ruthless and would shoot at prisoners, he could not do so from this balcony as the terrain and the layout of the camp infrastructure precluded this. He used to step outside to hunt humans, with his Tyrolean hat marking his intentions. It was the signal for seasoned prisoners to attempt to hide.[20]

The camp was an Arbeitslager ("labour camp"), supplying forced labour to several armament factories and to a stone quarry. Most of the prisoners were Polish Jews. There were also high numbers of women and children compared with other camps.[4] A large degree of the Hungarian prisoners were women. The death rate in the camp was very high. Many prisoners died of typhus, starvation, and from executions. Because the work facilities were designed for men, the women had a lower chance of survival.[4][8] Płaszów camp became particularly infamous for both the individual and the mass shootings carried out at 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 three to four times weekly. The covered lorries from Kraków would arrive in the morning. The condemned were walked into a trench of the Hujowa Górka hillside, ordered to strip down and stand naked, and then were finally shot.[21] Their bodies were then covered with dirt, layer upon layer. During these mass shootings, all other inmates were forced to watch.[19] In early 1944, all corpses were exhumed and burned on a pyre to obliterate the evidence of the mass murder. Witnesses later testified that 17 truckloads of human ashes were removed from the burning site and scattered over the area.[2]

Although food was scarce, inmates that possessed any number of any number of zlotys could buy extra food.[22] A food for food trading system also developed. For example, two portions of soup was equal to a half loaf of bread.

When Göth received notice of a new shipment of inmates, he would set up deportations for Auschwitz.[23] On May 14th 1944, Göth ordered all children to be sent to the "kindergarten". This turned out only to be a precursor to deportation to Auschwitz on May 15th where the children were all gassed.

Göth entrusted documents pertaining to the mass killings and executions 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.[24][25][26]

Outside Aid[edit]

Prisoners could also rely on outside help to some degree.[8] The Jüdische Unterstützungsstelle, a support group that the Germans tolerated, would provide the inmates with food and medical assistance. The Zehnerschaft was a group of women that also supported the inmates. The Polish Welfare Organization sent food to Polish prisoners and some of them shared with the Jewish inmates. There were also individuals such as Stanislaw Dobrowolski, the head of the Kraków branch of the Council for Aid to Jews (Żegota), and Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a famous pharmacist, also aided the prisoners.

Punishments[edit]

Göth and the other camp personnel punished inmates for a variety of actions. Any action perceived as sabotage, such as smuggling items into the camp, disobeying orders, or carrying an extra piece of food in one's clothes was an offense punishable by death.[27] Prisoners were warned that if they tried to escape, every member of their family and even innocent strangers would be killed.[28] In terms of methods for killing, death by hanging was a favored method of Göth's.[29] For a standard punishment, twenty-five lashings were dealt to the guilty inmate's buttocks.[30]

Hope For the Prisoners[edit]

While prisoners' daily lives were dominated by fear and starvation, there were some outlets for hope of survival. Rumors involving the Russian advancement that would lead to the camp's liberation always circulated.[31] Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party that saved the 1200 Schindlerjuden was also a key figure.[5] While prisoners always feared a transport to Auschwitz, one that was always sought after was a transport to Brünnlitz labor camp in Slovakia. This is where Oskar Schindler's enamel factory was located.[32] Schindler was known for being compassionate towards Jews. He never hit anyone, was always kind, and smiled frequently around the workers.[33] Having relatives and friends that worked for Schindler gave one a better chance at being put on the list for transport.[34]

Hiding the Evidence[edit]

During July and August 1944, a number of transports of prisoners left KL Płaszow 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. Several female SS guards were part of the group that accompanied them.. Many of those who survived the march were killed upon arrival. When the Nazis realized the Soviets were approaching Kraków, they completely dismantled the camp, leaving only an empty field. All bodies that had been previously buried in various mass graves were exhumed and burned on site. On 20 January 1945, the Red Army arrived and found only a patch of barren land.[2]

Aftermath[edit]

Most of the numbers, including the number of inmates and killings, rely on estimation.[23] The prisoner card index was destroyed during the camp's destruction. In terms of postwar trials, crimes committed at the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp were the subject of few. West German prosecutors took until the late 1950s to investigate these crimes. One of them was Göth's trial and sentence to death.

Commemoration[edit]

Płaszów Memorial (erected in 1964)
The sign at the main entrance to the Płaszów camp memorial area
Concentration Camp Memorial

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 generally, and another to the Hungarian Jewish victims) at one perimeter of where the camp once stood. The Jewish cemetery, where the Nazis removed all but one of the tombstones, stands on the side of the hill at the eastern end of the camp, near the Grey house. Amon Göth's villa remains there. Another small monument, located near the opposite end of the site, stands in memory of the first execution of (non-Jewish) Polish 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 Płaszów area is now a nature preserve, the director Steven Spielberg built a camp replica in the Liban Quarry, some hundred meters away.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Plaszow Forced Labour Camp". Aktion Reinhard Camps. 20 July 2006. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Plaszow – Krakow Forced Labour Camp". Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. 2 April 2008. Archived from the original on 2 April 2008. 
  3. ^ a b "Plaszow Concentration Camp in Krakow". Essential Krakow. Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Megargee, Geoffrey P. "KRAKAU-PLASZOW MAIN CAMP." The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum encyclopedia of camps and ghettos, 1933-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. p. 863.
  5. ^ a b Greenberg, Melinda. "The Miracle Man: Joseph Bau's Art Represents a Lifetime of Dealing with the Horrors He Experienced during the Holocaust." Jewish Baltimore Times, March 6, 1998.
  6. ^ Weitz, Sonia (1993). I promised I would tell. Brookline, Mass: Facing History and Ourselves. p. 35. 
  7. ^ a b Hanley, Craig (2007). William & Rosalie: a Holocaust testimony. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press. p. 41. 
  8. ^ a b c d Megargee, Geoffrey P. "KRAKAU-PLASZOW MAIN CAMP." The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum encyclopedia of camps and ghettos, 1933-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. p. 864.
  9. ^ Weitz, Sonia (1993). I promised I would tell. Brookline, Mass: Facing History and Ourselves. p. 37. 
  10. ^ a b Brecher, Elinor (1994). Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors. New York, NY: Dutton. p. 185. 
  11. ^ Eilender, Kasriel K. (2003). "The Barber of Goerlitz: A Memoir". p. 33. Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Brecher, Elinor (1994). Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors. New York, NY: Dutton. p. 150. 
  13. ^ Brecher, Elinor (1994). Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors. New York, NY: Dutton. p. 162. 
  14. ^ Black, Peter R. (2006). "Police Auxiliaries for Operation Reinhard: Shedding Light on the Trawniki Training Camp Through Documents From Behind the Iron Curtain". In Bankier, David. Secret Intelligence and the Holocaust: Collected Essays from the Colloquium at the City University of New York Graduate Center. New York; Jerusalem: Enigma. pp. 331–348. ISBN 192963160X. 
  15. ^ Schramm, Marcel; Böhm, Marc (16 June 2009). "Die sadistische Aufseherin von Obernheide" [The sadistic warden of Oberheide]. Seminararbeit (in German). Redaktion Weyhe. Retrieved May 17, 2014. Heise, sentenced to 15 years for war crimes by the British judiciary, was last reported alive in Hamburg in 1970. 
  16. ^ "Alice Orlowski, Auschwitz Trial". Photo Archive. Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  17. ^ Elinor J. Brechner, Schindler’s Legacy (Hartmannsworth, UK: Plume, 1994) p. 151
  18. ^ Crowe 2004, pp. 354–355.
  19. ^ a b Nelken, Helina (1999). And Yet, I Am Here!. Univ of Massachusetts Press. p. 216. 
  20. ^ Wieliński, Bartosz T. (10 July 2012). "Amon Göth myśliwy z KL Płaszów" [Amon Göth, the hunter of KZ Płaszów]. Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish). Agora SA. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  21. ^ Nelken, Helina (1999). And Yet, I Am Here!. Univ of Massachusetts Press. p. 211. 
  22. ^ Novac, Ana (1997). The Beautiful Days of My Youth: My Six Months in Auschwitz and Plaszow. 1997: Henry Holt. p. 76. 
  23. ^ a b Megargee, Geoffrey P. "KRAKAU-PLASZOW MAIN CAMP." The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum encyclopedia of camps and ghettos, 1933-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. p. 865.
  24. ^ Brown, Daniel Patrick (2002). The Camp Women: The Female Auxiliaries Who Assisted the SS in Running the Nazi Concentration Camp System. Atglen, PA: Schiffer. p. 185. ISBN 0-7643-1444-0. 
  25. ^ Wiesenthal, Simon (1989). Justice Not Vengeance. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. [page needed]. ISBN 9780297796831. 
  26. ^ Graf, Malvina (1989). The Krakow Ghetto and the Plaszow Camp Remembered. University Press of Florida. pp. [page needed]. ISBN 9780813009056. 
  27. ^ Hanley, Craig (2007). William & Rosalie: a Holocaust testimony. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press. p. 39. 
  28. ^ Hanley, Craig (2007). William & Rosalie: a Holocaust testimony. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press. p. 40. 
  29. ^ Ana, Novac (1997). The Beautiful Days of My Youth: My Six Months in Auschwitz and Plaszow. Henry Holt. p. 56. 
  30. ^ Brecher, Elinor (1994). Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors. New York, NY: Dutton. p. 60. 
  31. ^ Novac, Ana (1997). The Beautiful Days of My Youth: My Six Months in Auschwitz and Plaszow. Henry Holt. p. 60. 
  32. ^ Nelken, Helina (1999). And Yet, I Am Here!. Univ of Massachusetts Press. p. 217. 
  33. ^ Brecher, Elinor (1994). Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors. New York, NY: Dutton. p. 296. 
  34. ^ Brecher, Elinor (1994). Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors. New York, NY: Dutton. p. 231. 
  • Crowe, David M. (2004). Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-465-00253-5. 

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 50°01′51″N 19°58′3″E / 50.03083°N 19.96750°E / 50.03083; 19.96750