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A place to remember versus a place to live?

15 of October '19

The site of the former KL Plaszow labor camp is one of the hotspots on the contemporary map of Krakow. The actors are many. The city authorities. The Jewish Community. Museum workers. Architects. The community activists. Residents of Cracow. The closest neighbors. At this point there are two sides: us and them. Simplifying: neighbors versus the rest. Disputed issues: recreation vs. commemoration, tourism vs. living comfort. And which is more important: residents or history?

A series of public consultations on the issue of commemorating the victims at the former KL Plaszow concentration camp began in 2019. They are being carried out by the Municipal Dialogue Center, which specializes in mediation. The meetings are intended to be a platform for understanding positions and developing common solutions. They reached for this tool because the level of public discontent around the planned investment began to rise dangerously. Too late, because the issue is not new.

View of the Monument to the Victims of Fascism on the site of the former Plaszow Concentration Camp, designed by Witold Ceckiewicz, 1964

photo: Katarzyna Jagodzinska

far behind Schindler's Factory

In 2006, an architectural competition was held to develop the site of the former German Nazi forced labor camp and then concentration camp in Plaszow. The area, where thirty thousand people were held during World War II and five thousand of them murdered, was finally to receive a proper commemoration. A total of thirty-seven hectares (although the camp was much larger).

At the same time, Schindler's Factory, a branch of the Krakow Museum, was also being born. The two sites, less than two kilometers apart, are part of the same historical narrative.
In 2010, a permanent exhibition was opened in the factory's administrative building, entitled. "Krakow - Time of Occupation 1939-1945," and since then the museum has been breaking attendance records.

And the Plaszow Concentration Camp? It hasn't changed much since then. Trees, meadows, hills, alleys. A picturesque park. On the edge of the camp, the monumental Monument to the Victims of Fascism, completed in 1964, designed by Witold Ceckiewicz. In addition, several commemorative plaques and smaller monuments, as well as outdoor exhibition boards. The area is fully open and accessible. It is bounded on one side by the busy four-lane Kamienskiego Street and on the other by the Kabel housing development. The Gray House - the only surviving camp building that housed a punishment cell for prisoners and is to be used as an exhibition space in the future - is separated from the blocks by a narrow street. And nothing else. The two worlds overlap when dog walkers enter the green area, when bicyclists flash through the alleys, when picnickers empty bottles of alcohol and even fire up a barbecue. Do they do this because they don't know that the entire area is a de facto cemetery? Because they see nothing inappropriate about it? Because it is simply not forbidden?

The Gray House - the only surviving camp building - is separated from the residential blocks only by a narrow neighborhood street

photo: Katarzyna Jagodzińska

unrealized project

The 2006 competition was won by the Proxima Design Group (now GPP Grupa Projektowa Sp. z o.o.). The project called for the construction of a so-called Memorial, which would house a permanent exhibition, as well as the authentication of existing paths in the area and the outline of the parade ground.

"We wanted those entering the area to have an opportunity for tranquility and reflection that would prepare them for the entrance. That's why we decided to plunge the Memorial underground. In the Memorial they will be able to get acquainted with the history of the site and only then by a ramp will they be able to go out into the camp area." - explains Borislav Tsarakchev, one of the architects.

The design of the Memorial building - a fragment of the winning 2006 competition entry by the Proxima Design Group (now GPP Grupa Projektowa Sp. z o.o.).

© GPP Grupa Projektowa Sp. z o.o
Illustration provided courtesy of the Municipal Investment Board of Krakow

Their vision called for a great deal of interference with the site - plans included the construction of a footbridge running along the main camp road, an illuminated reconstruction of the outlines of the defunct barracks, and concrete pylons placed along the site's contours. Changes to the competition design resulted from disagreements over the scale of the site's intrusions. Many comments were made by the International Auschwitz Council and the Social Council for the Establishment of the Museum - Memorial of KL Plaszow, appointed by the mayor of Krakow.

In the end, in the modified 2018 design, the Memorial and the layout of the existing roads, along with the outline of the roll-call square, retained their competition shape. Other factors also contributed to the delay in the implementation of the commemoration of the victims of the camp. It was only in 2017 that the legal ownership of the land included in the area of the future museum was settled. For ten years, the architects - as Borislav Tsarakchev points out - also had no conversation partner in the form of the future user of the site. And finally, the city waited for the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to get involved in the project. Today we know that the Museum - Memorial of KL Plaszow is to be co-managed by the city and the ministry.

The institution with this name still does not exist (perhaps it will be established next year), but in 2017 the role of its incubator was assumed by the Museum of Krakow. At that time, an open-air exhibition presenting the history of the camp was organized on the site. A total of nineteen large boards stood there.

One of the boards of the open-air exhibition installed at the site of the former camp in 2017

photo: Katarzyna Jagodzińska

green area

Residents of nearby blocks of flats and houses began protesting against plans to create the Museum - Memorial of KL Plaszow in its proposed form. They set up a Facebook group "Stop fencing off Krzemionki" (515 likes). Representatives of the group say:

"The current project is to increase tourist traffic to half a million visitors. We are concerned that a side effect of such a huge traffic - even if this is not the intention of the designers - will be the commercialization and trade in the memory of the murdered. We have been observing this phenomenon for years in other places, with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, for example, falling victim to it."

Among their arguments, the residents point to the planned cutting down of three hundred trees.

"It's taking away from residents the only green area in the neighborhood where you can go for a walk, jog, teach your child to ride a bike" (Facebook post from April 14 this year).

Their counter-proposal is a Memorial Park, where the existing memorial route would function. That is, the status quo.

"We call for the commemoration of the camp site in a way that combines respect for the past and for the people who suffered and died there, with respect for the ongoingthis area's life - people, animals and plants, including trees, which, having grown on the ashes of the murdered, preserve the memory of them in a beautiful and natural way."

Paweł Kubisztal, chairman of the PODGORZE.PL Association, which is active in the district, and a member of the Social Council, got into a discussion with the protesters on Facebook. Asked to comment, he explains that the current project is a compromise between preserving the authenticity of the site and finding a way to tell its story.

"I'm usually against cutting down trees in the city, but I think this location of the Memorial building is the best possible. What remains open is the form of fencing off the site, this in my opinion is necessary. The concept of creating a memorial was met with tremendous resistance, mainly from the closest neighbors, who treated it as an attack on their "green area." Until they accept that the site needs completely different treatment, agreement will be difficult. Unfortunately, the consultations are not bringing positions closer, at least for now. (...) I find talk of creating another tourist attraction or profitable business by force absurd."

A third consultation meeting is planned for October 21 this year - it will deal with greenery. Some changes are still possible, as there is an architectural design, but not a detailed design. Open, for example, is the form of the fence, which most exasperated the protesters. Today it seems rather a foregone conclusion that it will be a more symbolic form, making the boundary between the memorial area and the city of life more explicit. Marta Smietana of the Museum - Plaszow Concentration Camp Memorial also points out that tourist traffic in the area already exists, and that some residents would like to put this issue in order.

"Without taking institutional care of the area, regulating this issue will not be possible.

This is because at the moment there is no single host responsible for the area in question.

The area of KL Plaszow is used by many local residents as an ordinary green area, not realizing that it is de facto a cemetery

photo: Katarzyna Jagodzinska


The issue of commemorating the victims of the KL Plaszow camp has accelerated. More has happened in the last three years than in the previous decade. Borislav Tsarakchev is nevertheless skeptical. Hardly surprising for him, since it's been thirteen years since he won the competition.

"I have to slowly reconcile myself to the fact that this project will not be implemented soon. It's sad that Krakow for so many years has not been able to respect the place where its citizens died and their ashes were scattered." - he says.

Lack of money. Lack of ministerial support. Unregulated land ownership. Organizational difficulties. Certainly, yes, but most of all, however, there is a lack of political will that could have given the matter momentum. After all, several municipal museums have been established in Cracow over these thirteen years.


The vote has already been cast