When the story of a city dates back centuries, or millennia, as is the case with some of the most iconic cradles of civilisations, it is almost inevitable that some of its most important memories will be fraught with pain, war and destruction. Humanity has proved time and again, it is capable of heroic sacrifice, in defence of values and convictions, as much as unimaginable horrors, in pursuit of monstrous ideologies. Against this background, the way cities deal with their past may just offer an invaluable key to understanding their cultural heritage, and, in many respects, much of their collective social and historical identity.

KL Plaszow – site of the former German WWII concentration camp (monument on the site of the camp)

When Civilisation Resorts To Its Most Uncivilised

Do you sometimes ask yourself if you really know enough about the city you have spent much of your life in, or, why should you (know enough, if it’s even possible) in the first place? Can you think of a single memory, when you discover that a place you have visited (or passed by) hundreds of times has a really important story to tell, one you were completely unaware of, the kind of story that would have (completely) changed the way you feel, and maybe even act, when confronted with this seemingly familiar space anew.

The southern hills of Kraków hide some of humanity’s darkest chapters, going back to World War II and German occupation of Poland. The limestone hills towering above the city and boasting some truly remarkable views were once “a city within a city”, a forced labour camp that was turned into a concentration camp in the final years of the War, in many ways unlike all the other camps set up by the German occupiers.

And yet, the site of the former KL Plaszow is not one of those places where the so-called average tourist would venture on a 3-day trip to the city. It is one of the most deeply moving and thought-provoking places I have ever been to. Hauntingly quiet and profoundly symbolic in dozens of ways. A microcosm of human existence under terror, built on the site of two Jewish cemeteries and razed to the ground by the withdrawing German occupiers to destroy all evidence of what had happened there.

Rediscovering What You Thought You Already Knew

The other day, I spent a few hours walking around this area, reading and consulting the sources available on the internet, of which there are DEFINITELY TOO FEW, even in 2019. Looking for texts and accounts available in English may prove to be an even more arduous task, but the good news is things are likely to change in the next few months. Given what had happened on these serene-looking patches of greenery less than 80 years ago, it is high time this part of Kraków be given much more attention, if only to commemorate the thousands of lives lost here under unimaginable terror.

The future of this site is now under discussion (city authorities, experts and public consultations) and chances are by the end of the year, there will be much more clarity as to how the city will come to terms with a very important chapter of its 20th century history.

City as Memory

In the last post on this blog, I promised I would explore the notion of cities and metaphors. I suppose it would be extremely difficult to find a more important reference than that of cities remembering their past, if only to better understand the present…and the future.

KL Plaszow, former German Nazi concentration camp in Krakow.

Schindler’s List…25 Years Later!

The principal photography for Steven Spielberg’s iconic period drama, Schindler’s List began in 1993. It had a comparatively modest budget, a tight shooting calendar and multiple locations to cover. The director is reputed to have worked parallel on two major projects. He would supervise the shooting of Schindler’s List during the day (from Kraków) and oversee the progress made on Jurassic Park, back in California, over the phone.

To say that Schindler’s List had a huge impact on the global Holocaust debate would be an understatement, but that’s a topic for an altogether different article, better still, a vlog or a documentary. Yes, I know, you expected ‘a book’, but in today’s digital world, when you really think a story is important and should reach as many people as possible, writing a book will not always be a wise-choice priority, to put it mildly.

If you’d like to take a closer look at some of the more specific (Schindler’s List) shooting locations in Kraków, you may find this site of special interest…or this one.

“Kamieniołom Liban”, a former limestone quarry where Steven Spielberg’s film crew reconstructed the original KL Plaszow for Schindler’s List

Right next to the Krakus Mound, less than 1km away from the original concentration camp site, there is a beautiful, picturesque quarry, used by Steven Spielberg to reconstruct KL Plaszow for the purposes of his film. Today, it is not an easy place to find or access directly, nor is it allowed to enter the quarry itself, for safety reasons.

For the past 25 years, lavish greenery has taken over and, in short, not enough has been done to preserve the memory of this place and the stories hidden behind what today looks like a large natural preserve, more than a monument of history. This is likely to change in near future, however. Both the quarry and the former KL Plaszow site are now in the spotlight of public attention, with declarations,  budgets and projects approved by the public authorities already in progress.

The Krakus Mound (Kopiec Krakusa/Kraka)

To put things in (urban landscape) perspective, Kopiec Krakusa is situated right next to the quarry (to the left of the photo below). It boasts one of Kraków’s best historic-urban-landscape views and is one of the city’s favourite locations for sunset watching (there are five mounds in total; all well worth a visit, with stories of their own).

Regardless of whether you are a local or a tourist, sunset watching appears to never get boring. Here’s some proof, to give an optimistic finishing touch to this otherwise rather serious article.

The Krakus Mound (Kopiec Krakusa/Kraka) in Kraków, POLAND