University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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CHGS

Krakow Ghetto Memorial

History

Approximately 56,000 Jews lived in the city on the eve of World War II, making up almost one-quarter of the city’s population. The German army occupied Krakow during the first week of the September 1939 invasion of Poland, and immediately began persecution of Jews in the city. Under the German occupation authorities, the Jews of Krakow were required to report for forced labor, wear a white armband with a blue Star of David to mark themselves as Jewish, and register their property. From September 1940-March 1941, the Jews in Krakow and elsewhere in Poland were concentrated into ghettos.

The Krakow ghetto was established in early March 1941. The Germans had expelled thousands of Jews from Krakow by this time, but about 15,000 remained in the city. The ghetto was located in the southern part of the city, rather than the traditional Jewish quarter. The Germans concentrated between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews from Krakow and surrounding towns in the ghetto, which was enclosed by barbed-wire fences and a stone wall. Several German factories in the ghetto used Jewish forced labor, and some Jews also worked at non-Jewish businesses outside the ghetto. Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory was one such business. There were also two forced labor camps outside the ghetto.

Thousands of Jews from the Krakow ghetto were deported to Belzec, where they were murdered during Operation Reinhard actions in 1942. The Germans liquidated the ghetto in March 1943, shooting about 2,000 Jews in the ghetto, transferring another 2,000 to Plaszow forced labor camp, and deporting the remaining 3,000 to Auschwitz-Birkenau. About 2,450 of those deported to Auschwitz were gassed upon arrival. The majority of the Jews transferred to Plaszow were later killed in mass shooting operations carried out by the SS between September and December 1943. The survivors were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Krakow was liberated by Soviet Forces on January 19, 1945. As Jews returned from the Soviet Union, the Jewish population of the city expanded to about 10,000. However, many survivors emigrated in the face of pogroms and murders of Jews, so that there were only a few hundred Jews remaining in Krakow by the early 1990s.

Memorialization

The memorial to the Jews of the Jewish ghetto in Krakow was inaugurated on 8 December 2005. The winning project by Krakow architects Piotr Lewicki and Kazimierz Latak included 33 steel and cast iron chairs (1.4 m high) in the square and 37 smaller chairs (1.2 m high) standing on the edge of the square and at tram stops. The memorial’s chairs intrude to bus and tram stops and are used by locals awaiting transportation, suggesting that anyone can be a victim. The theme of empty chairs was also used at the Oklahoma City Monument at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building blast site to reflect "absence."

Krakow Deportation Monument Krakow Deportation Monument Krakow Deportation Monument Krakow Deportation Monument
Krakow Deportation Monument Krakow Deportation Monument Krakow Deportation Monument Krakow Deportation Monument
Krakow Deportation Monument
Bus stop that intrudes into monument with an ominous factory appearance, by intent or accident.
Krakow Deportation Monument
Building with 1941-43 on front and interior as a mock-up deportation car.
Krakow Deportation Monument
Sign commemorating Oskar Schindler's "Emalia" Factory in the Krakow Ghetto. The factory has been seized from a Jewish owner, Nathan Wurzel and renamed Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik, or DEF
Krakow Deportation Monument
Entrance to Schindler's factory and site where idea of rescue began, which became "Schindler's List."
Krakow Deportation Monument
Schindler's Emalia factory.
Krakow Deportation Monument
Schindler's Emalia factory.
Krakow Deportation Monument
Schindler's Office.
Krakow Deportation Monument
Last section of Krakow Ghetto wall.
Krakow Deportation Monument
Commemorative plaque on Krakow Ghetto wall.
Krakow Deportation Monument
Commemorative plaque on Krakow Ghetto wall.