Schindler’s List Death Camp: Krakow – Off the beaten track

THERE’S MORE LIKE THIS ON OUR NEW SITE – POLANDIAN.COM

In 1992 Steven Spielberg built a replica of the Nazi’s Płaszów Labor Camp for his movie Schindler’s List. The remains of this highly realistic set can still be seen today a short distance from the center of Krakow. Rebuilt using the original plans, the replica of Płaszów was constructed in a quarry only a few hundred meters from the location of the real camp. The Liban Quarry, the site of the reconstruction, is one of the places where inmates of Płaszów were worked to death or randomly murdered.

Today the Liban Quarry is a peaceful spot, famous for it’s populations of rare lizards and endangered wild flowers. Young trees and shrubs were bursting into the supernaturally bright green of spring when I visited this early May weekend. After a slightly perilous scramble down unmarked chalky paths we found our way to the floor of the quarry and pushed through the burgeoning saplings to see what we could see. The most obvious features are visible from the lip of the quarry, but it’s worth finding your way down for a closer look.

Liban Quarry from the south side of Kopiec Krakus

Traces of the Schindler’s List set and other features

——————————————————————————-

The tombstone road

The real Płaszów camp was built partly on the site of Jewish graveyards. In a typical piece of Nazi theatricality the tombstones were used to pave the road into the camp so that inmates were compelled to trample over the relics of their ancestors on their way to and from work. This is shocking from our safe and distant perspective, but I’m sure it was the last thing that really worried the men and women who were trying to survive there. In the reconstructed camp concrete casts from real headstones were used to build a similar road. It would be interesting to find out exactly which original headstones were cast.

The reconstructed road of tombstones (it’s ok to walk on them, they’re not real)

Detail of the reconstructed road of tombstones (look carefully for the repetitions)

——————————————————————————-

The fences

The original Płaszów camp had an inner and an outer fence. The corridor between these fences was patrolled by SS guards. This is reproduced exactly in the Liban Quarry copy. The remnants of the movie set are incredibly convincing. The timber looks decades old, rather than less than 20 years old – did the set builders use timber from an older source? If so, I’d love to know what that source was. According what I’ve read, the real camp had concrete fence posts, but maybe this wouldn’t have looked ‘authentic’ enough in the movie (I was certainly surprised to find that the fences at Auschwitz have concrete posts – too many war movies I guess). Also, I have no idea if the original fences were electrified – the insulators on the fake fence posts suggest that they were but this could also be a touch or artistic license.

Corridor between the inner and outer fences

Another view of the fence posts and barbed wire

——————————————————————————-

The lime kilns

From my memory of reading Schindler’s Ark, the book upon which Schindler’s list is based, I recall that the work on Liban Quarry was focused on the production of quicklime rather than the quarrying of limestone for its own sake. To produce quicklime you need a lime kiln, and that’s what I believe those tower-like structures at the back of the quarry are for. Limestone goes in the top, burning coal or charcoal goes in about half-way down, and quicklime comes out the bottom. Looking closely at these structures they are clearly many decades old, not movie sets. It’s possible they are remnants of the quicklime producing facilities from the Nazi’s war time operation, but they could also date from after the war, when the quarry continued in use. Again, something it would be nice to discover the truth about.

Dark satanic mills – but from what period in history?

Detail of the lime kilns

——————————————————————————-

Visiting the ‘fake’ Płaszów camp is a confusing and disturbing experience. The remnants you see are the remnants of a movie set, not the remnants of the actual labor camp – the real labor camp was destroyed and tidied away by the Germans before the Russians arrived. Despite knowing this one can’t help but be moved by the remains of the fake camp. It looks and feels exactly as you would expect an abandoned and overgrown Nazi death camp to look and feel, but it is – literally – just a movie. These are not the fences that enclosed the pitiless and brutal murder of thousands of people, but they stand on the ground where exactly those things happened. These are not the smashed remnants of centuries-old Jewish culture reduced to paving slabs, but they are exactly like them and the lie on the ground where Jewish people were worked to death. The coincidence between the ‘Hollywood’ version 50 years later and the reality beneath your feet is deeply confusing and thought provoking. To my mind, the reconstructed Płaszów camp lies at the heart of our struggle to understand – a living essay on the power of film blatantly and horrifically tied directly to the reality that film tries to portray. I’m inclined to believe that the remnants of the reconstructed Płaszów Camp were perhaps the chief reason for the making of the movie… but that’s just me.

——————————————————————————-

How to get there

The Liban Quarry is on the south side of the Vistula River. From the center of Old Krakow simply walk down through Kazimierz (Krakowska Street) and cross the Piłsudskiego Bridge (an unmistakable iron bridge painted pale blue). From there, follow the map below up to the Krakus Mound from which there is an excellent view down into the quarry. If you do decide to try and make your way down into the quarry itself please remember it is an environmentally sensitive area and it is dangerous.

(Click for a larger version)

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

23 thoughts on “Schindler’s List Death Camp: Krakow – Off the beaten track

  1. MartinP says:

    Thanks for that good article!
    Can you post a pointer on Google Maps (for example) to the location?

    With best regards – Martin

  2. scatts says:

    I remember hunting for the location of Schindler’s factory in Kazimierz a few trips to Krakow ago. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it should be and as there was no sign on the door or anything I’m still not sure if I found it.

  3. Jolanta says:

    Island, well, I suspect that most questions are directed at me. I am too busy to answer all of them today but I shall in due course.

    Just a few things today:
    1) The Plaszow camp was established as a penal forced labour camp, and, as far as I remember, the first inmates were Polish (I need to check it, though). Few people realise that both Poles AND Jews of Polish and other origin were imprisoned there; on average, about 1000 Poles were kept there, far more after the Warsaw Uprising (1944).

    2) The camp was set up on the site of the Krakowski and Podgórski Jewish cemeteries; the Germans destroyed the cemeteries and the huge Oriental-looking pre-burial hall designed by Adolf Siódmak

    3) Schindler’s factory is not in Kazimierz but in the Zablocie area (actually, it was HIS factory just for a little while; he was a typical German profiteer who came here to take over Polish and Jewish property which, according to the law, became the property of the Reich then; the factory’s original name was “Emalia” )

    4) Liban family was Jewish, they owned a lot of land in Borek Fałęcki; as far as I know the limestone from the quarry was processed in the long gone Solvay factory, also for several decades after the war. The polution it created was unbelievable – local inhabitants would wake up in the morning to see the trees covered in white dust (in the 1970s).

    5) If you want to see what the Solvay factory and its surroundings looked like before the war I suggest going through the passage in the old factory building which is between Carrefour and Castorama; you will find interesting photographs there.

    J.

    Last but not least – I’d rather you did not encourage anyone to “scramble down”; especially in spring. The nesting season is in full swing and there are a number of protected bird species in and around the quarry.

  4. Jolanta says:

    I did not put that face next to the name of the factory – who did?

  5. darthsida says:

    Jolanta, the system did. It does irritating things when you join certain marks, notably alongside brackets. In your case the smiley was born out of together with )
    I put an extra space for you.

  6. Jolanta says:

    Thank you, Mr Darthsida.

    J.

  7. Jolanta says:

    Island, please, do not misuse the words “death camp”. Płaszów was:
    a forced labour camp (1942)
    a branch of the Majdanek camp (mid-1943)
    a concentration camp with the branches in Wieliczka and Mielec (January 1944).

    On the Polish territory occupied by the Germans “only” Bełżec, Chełmno, Sobibor and Treblinka were death /extermination camps. Auschwitz and Majdanek were labour-cum-death installations. I hope you do understand the difference.

    J.

  8. island1 says:

    Jolanta: Thanks for the fulsome and knowledgeable comments as ever. On the issue of ‘death camps,’ yes – I do know the difference and I probably shouldn’t have used the term ‘death camp’ since Płaszów was, as you say, primarily a labor camp rather than a dedicated extermination site like Bełżec etc. On the other hand, according to the survivors’ accounts in Schindler’s Ark, several thousand people were summarily murdered there following the ghetto clearances – the camp simply wasn’t big enough to take them. Also, it makes for a more eye-catching title, although perhaps I shouldn’t admit that.

    As to encouraging people to scramble down and take a look, I suppose you’re right. There was a steady trickle of people wandering down there and climbing all over the incredibly dangerous rusting installations anyway so I don’t think the place is completely unknown. A lot of the floor of the pit is flooded, so you can’t actually go very far unless you’re willing to wade – I assume the birds are wise enough to nest on the other side of the water away from pesky humans.

  9. scatts says:

    Jolanta,

    I don’t know Krakow that well, I just remember taking in the factory en-route to Kazimierz. I bow to your local knowledge that it is in Zablocie. I’ve just google-imaged the factory and I see they do now have a sign outside that identifies it, I recognize the gates. I forget when I was there, perhaps 1998, and it was not signposted in any way back then.

    Out of interest, from your wording, should we assume that Schindler was not deserving of the “affection” the film might possibly have thrown his way? (hard to choose the right words in such circumstances)

    Coincidentally, we’ve been watching a series about Auschwitz (and other places) on the BBC Knowledge recently. I think the one we watched yesterday was the last episode and it concentrated on the discovery & aftermath. Quite astonishing, in particular the number of people involved who were never brought to justice. Also the story of one survivor who decided to visit his original home, then occupied by someone else who’s main concern seemed to be to find out behind which wall the money was hidden!

  10. guest says:

    Today Irena Sendler died in Warsaw…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irena_Sendler

    she saved more than twice as many Jews as Oskar Schindler…of course not many people know her.

  11. island1 says:

    Scatts: Yes, Schindler’s factory was/is on the other side of the river and, until quite recently, there weren’t any signs.

    Schindler was, like all human beings, not a black-and-white character. The book, Schindler’s Ark, is very good at pointing this out – he was an out and out profiteer who had no compunction about using slave labor when he started out at the beginning of the war. On the other hand he did quite deliberately, and at great expense and personal risk, do a lot to keep his workers out of harm’s way and finally save them from almost certain death in the closing months of the war. The film tackles little of this complexity.

    The BBC Auschwitz series was excellent. I remember that episode well, and especially the guy who demolished his house looking for hidden Jewish gold. I very strongly recommend the book that accompanied the series ‘Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution’ by Laurance Rees. A truly superb and highly readable piece of historical writing that untangles many of the misconceptions that have grown up about the ‘Final Solution’.

  12. island1 says:

    Martin: Glad you enjoyed it. You’ll notice I’ve now included a map, I was going to do this yesterday but it was too late and I was too tired. Hope you find it ok.

  13. Jolanta says:

    Guest: Thank you for mentioning Mrs Sendler in your post; I would also add Henryk Sławik and many more whose names only few of us remember because they have not been immortalised and idolised by a high-budget American film made by a famous director. For a start I suggest:

    http://www.savingjews.org
    http://www.irenasendler.org/thestory.asp

    Island: As far as I remember, Schindler took an interest in his workers only when he realised that the end of the war (AND the Red Army) was near and he, somehow, should “protect his back” in case somebody asked him what he had been doing in a taken-over factory in an occupied country. Perhaps I am wrong but I do not have access to any reliable documents right now so I cannot check it or prove it. For obvious reasons, I do not expect the survivors to speak ill of him, though.

    The camp was surrounded by two electrified barbed wire fences but I have no idea whether they were concrete or wooden. The house which was occupied by Amon Goeth, the camp commandant, is in ul.Heltman 22.
    Not many visitors to the Plaszow camp know that that the inmates worked on both sides of the main road, not just close to the monuments.

    Scatts: I know a number of such stories (about Jews not being let into their pre-war houses) because, occasionally, I teach about some issues connected with the Jewish minority in Poland so about things like that too. I discussed the problem of Jewish property in Poland with Mr Darthsida in the post Polish Lie 68 – Expelling Polish Jews.
    What can I say? I have learnt to accept that we are only humans and this kind of behaviour (greed etc.) is deeply ingrained in human nature (not in the “Polish character”). I am absolutely sure that it has happened everywhere in Europe.

    One more thing – there are plans to change the look of the camp area completely. A number of architects have recently been competing with their designs. Some (architects as well as designs) are utterly stupid e.g. the one which comprises a series of spot lights in the ground (nobody knows how many people died and were buried there). The peaceful atmosphere of the place will, most probably, be soon gone for ever but the architect and the builders will earn loads of money, so, who cares?

    J.

  14. Raf Uzar says:

    Interesting stuff, although the big (albeit very sad) news of the say is the death of Irena Sendlerowa. :-(
    Raf
    http://uzar.wordpress.com/

  15. scatts says:

    Jolanta, I remember your discussion with the Darth, that’s partly why I raised the point.

    Thanks to all who mentioned Irena Sendler (owa). I’d never heard of her. May she rest in the peace she quite obviously deserves.

  16. darthsida says:

    Jolanta,

    you used to address me as ‘Darth’ or ‘Darthsida’, now I seem to have earned the honorific “Mr.” (and is it just for me?) — I never really liked the netiquette of addressing strangers with buddysome ‘you’, but hey, I didn’t make the rules. Then, I believe it’s no coincidence I went ‘mistered’ after having thought of you as ‘anti-Polish’. Well, that thinking is gone. It’s more ‘knowing’ now.
    I understand you may feel offended by me, that’s ok, you don’t have to use any false politeness.

    PS Pardon me dealing with this in public. If I knew your email, I wouldn’t have written this here.

  17. Jolanta says:

    Darth / Mr Dath,

    I would like “to Mister/Ms” everyone here and, in fact, somewhere deep inside me, I do it all the time. Please, note that I “mister” you only when I talk about you as a third party ( I hope I am consistent in this but if I am not, sorry).

    It would be stupid of me to feel offended – I cannot have a grudge against (most) people I talk to just because they do not like what I say.

    J.

  18. […] visits the Liban Quarry and posts pictures: “In 1992 Steven Spielberg built a replica of the Nazi’s Płaszów Labor […]

  19. […] visits the Liban Quarry and posts pictures: “In 1992 Steven Spielberg built a replica of the Nazi’s Płaszów Labor […]

  20. […] more about the Jewish experience in Second World War Krakow in Schindler’s List Death Camp: Krakow – Off the beaten track Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Krakow (1)We Must Never ForgetFive Years in the […]

  21. Steven Woodruff says:

    So what DO you call a camp that people are required to work to DEATH in Jolanta ??

  22. […] [Comments for Polandian] Comment on Schindler’s List Death Camp: Krakow – Off the beaten track by … […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s