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The Plaszow Forced Labour Camp
Established as a forced labour camp in 1942, it was turned into a concentration camp in January 1944. It contained both Jewish and Polish prisoners, although they were segregated from each other. By June 1944 a total of 24,000 people were imprisoned there and, of these, 8,000 are estimated to have died at the camp. Throughout its existence, Plaszow was in a continuous state of development. Two gas chambers were erected at the camp although their construction was never actually completed, possibly due to the proximity of Auschwitz.
Camp inmates were forced to work in camp workshops as well as in the local quarry. Death was a common day to day occurrence. Prisoners were either shot, or they died from hunger, illness or overwork. The camp guards as well as the camp's commander, Amon Goeth, were exceptionally cruel in their treatment of prisoners.
Faced with the approach of Soviet troops in the summer of 1944, the Germans did all they could to erase the evidence of what had happened at the camp. Prisoners were transported to other concentration camps in the West, the camp's barracks were dismantled, camp records removed and bodies exhumed (by the remaining prisoners) from the mass graves and burnt. Tragically, the last remaining Jews from Plaszow were sent to Auschwitz just before the liberation of Krakow by Soviet forces.
Even before the end of the war Amon Goeth was brought back to Krakow to face trial for his crimes. His defence of only following orders was rejected by the court and he was sentenced to death by hanging. He was hung on September 13th 1946.
On a summer's day a visitor could easily be forgiven for assuming that the site of the Plaszow camp nothing more than a pleasant piece of countryside in which to take a walk. It would be wrong to pretend that the former camp creates the same feelings of outright horror and sadness that Auschwitz does. Thankfully, the monuments that are to be found at Plaszow remind visitors to the site that thousands of people died there.
The former camp is easily reached from anywhere in Krakow or Kazimierz. Anyone wishing to see the former camp should use the Dworcowa tram stop on ul. Wielicka and make their way onto the McDonalds side of the street and head upwards. The main monument at Plaszow is a 15 minute walk from the tram stop.