Site or Non-Site?

Some Questions and Comments about Płaszów

In the summer of 2015, as a continuation from my 2013 book, Time in Płaszów, my research focused on the former Nazi camp at Płaszów in southern Kraków, with three principal tasks:  first, to assess the current status of the site, and to understand official policy toward its future; second, to understand how the site functions in the everyday life of the city, and to study ordinary peoples’ understandings and misunderstandings of the site; third, to visualize the complexity of the site in photographs, which communicate in ways that text alone cannot.  What follows is a summary of my findings in the first two areas, with the photographs effectively a separate undertaking.

Historical background
Płaszów opened in June 1942 as the main forced-labor camp for Jews rounded up from the Kraków region, and later from Hungary.  It initially occupied 25 acres on the site of two Jewish cemeteries in the Podgórze section of Kraków, and was planned to hold 5,000-7,000 prisoners, largely from the Kraków ghetto.  By 1944, it occupied 197 acres and contains some 30,000 prisoners, and over 200 buildings.  Approximately 150,000 people passed through the camp in the two and a half years of its existence.  Though most prisoners were Jews, the camp’s population also included hundreds of Roma and thousands of Polish political prisoners, the latter reaching some 3,000 following the Warsaw Uprising (August-October 1944).

The camp served three major purposes simultaneously.  First, it was a forced labor camp, in which prisoners worked variously as tailors, locksmiths, carpenters, upholsterers, mechanics, electricians, shoemakers, furriers, printers.  Second, it was a transit camp for condemned Jews subsequently sent to Bełżec, Auschwitz and other forced labor camps.  Third, it formed a killing center of its own, with regular massacres occurring by gunshot, especially at Hujowa Górka and Cipowy Dołek.  The massacred included those transported from Montelupich prison to be killed at the camp.  “Life” in the camp was extraordinarily brutal, especially under the infamous commander Amon Göth, who assumed leadership in February 1943.  Sadistic beatings, shootings, and torture of prisoners occurred continuously, above and beyond the camp’s baseline murderousness of starvation, exhaustion and disease.  Camp guards included some 200 Ukrainian SS men trained at Trawniki, plus another 600 German SS men and SS women.

In January 1944, the SS Economic and Administration Department took over the Płaszów camp, effectively converting it from a regional to a major camp in the General Government.  The SS liquidated the remaining forced-labor camps for Jews in the Kraków and Radom Districts, and concentrated the Jewish forced laborers at Płaszów, which overtook Majdanek in size.  In the summer of 1944, in an effort to erase evidence of the camp, the Nazis began to exhume the bodies of some 9,000 people from 11 mass graves and burn them.  Witnesses testified that 17 truckloads of human ashes were removed from the burning sites and scattered over the area of the camp.  The death toll at the camp is estimated at around 10,000.  In January 1945, the SS guards evacuated the last 636 Jews from Płaszów in the direction of Auschwitz, and when Soviet troops enter Krakow on January 19, they found Płaszów a deserted, barren tract of land.



Complications of the site today
Today, Płaszów is the only major former Nazi camp not under the oversight of a museum or cultural institution.  Instead it forms an ambivalent space within the contemporary city, a tract of open land that is both a known Holocaust site and a de-facto public park used for recreation, especially in the warm months, where it is popular among dog-walkers, sunbathers, picknickers and drinkers.  As a site of memory (a lieu-de-mémoire, in Pierre Nora’s influential term, see below), it is just as much a non-site of memory (a non-lieux de mémoire, in Claude Lanzmann’s term), a site of neglect and disregard.  There is no good term to describe its contradictoriness––as if the traumatic past were adrift in time, neither embraced nor disavowed.  

Why is Płaszów this way?  From my research, at least five main factors contribute to the site’s current condition.

1.  The state of the camp at the war’s end is significantly responsible for its postwar fate:  the camp was not liberated per se, rather discovered as an evacuated site when the Red Army liberated Kraków.  Had the camp physically been more intact, the creation of a museum or institutional oversight might have been more likely.  At the least, the evacuatedness of the site at war’s end effectively seeded the pervasive unconcern that characterized the state’s attention to sites of Jewish atrocity during most of the Communist period (with certain exceptions, such as the early 1960s, when the large monument was placed).

2.  The site’s ownership is divided between four types of claimants:  the Jewish community of Kraków; the Association of Jewish Communities of Poland; the City of Kraków; private owners.  The largest area of the former camp, and most of the area within the erstwhile electrified barbed wire fence, belongs to one of the two Jewish owners; however the city’s ownership overlaps that of the Jewish communities inasmuch as the city controls the water, gas, sewage and utilities lines that run through the center of the site.  Any commemorative project would demand extensive coordination between the Jewish communities and the city, though in practice the Jewish community of Kraków holds––and exercises––a power of veto.

3.  Policies internal to the Jewish community play an important role in the site’s neglect, and its perceived neglect.  Most obviously, the Jewish community is responsible for the paucity of signage and public information at the portion of the site that it owns.  Signage from the Jewish community consists of nondescript “alerts” at several trailheads that visitors are entering the former camp.  The single sign with any descriptive depth is a small tablet across from the Grey House, placed not by the Jewish community but by the city as part of its tourist route of Podgórze.  The pervasive lack of signage results in widespread public ignorance about the history of the camp and even its physical boundaries.  It further results in a situation in which there are no clear rules for behavior, which is to say that there appears to be a general permissiveness, following the dictum prevalent in Polish culture, “that which is not expressly forbidden is allowed.”  On the other hand, in 2012 the Jewish community was able effectively to partner with the city to undertake extensive physical work on the site, including the re-creation of the contours of the former Appelplatz, the clearing of the old Jewish cemetery, and the renewal of key paths from the former camp, especially Ul. Abrahama.  Coordinated and costly works of this kind show just how productive the Jewish community and the city can be when they cooperate.

4.  Varying combinations of knowledge mixed with indifference are common among the general public, at least those whom I interviewed at the site (see below).  This mixture contributes to the site’s quasi-invisibility for a great many people––a state in which its history is generally known, but not deeply felt.  The upshot is a situation of legitimized apathy toward the site’s traumatic history, mixed with a local reclamation of the site as a park, in the vacuum of leadership and initiative.

5.  Kraków’s proximity to Auschwitz has the paradoxical effect of lessening rather than enhancing recognition of Płaszów’s importance as a site of Holocaust history.  It is as if attention to Auschwitz somehow substitutes for attention to Płaszów––a phenomenon not particular to Płaszów alone, but also a factor in the utter historical neglect of other former camps, most importantly the former “Buna” factory in the Monowice district of Oświęcim itself, once a key component of the Auschwitz complex of camps.  Related to this problem of historical “substitution” or centralization of memory is Holocaust fatigue, a widely reported but difficult-to-measure sense among many people that contemporary Poland carries an uncommonly heavy burden of traumatic history, including but not limited to the Jewish genocide.  No other European country faces quite such a burden, not to mention the added burden of the shift from communist to post-communist society.



Theorizing the site
A number of theoretical paradigms have been developed to describe locations such as Płaszów.  Pierre Nora’s influential term lieu de mémoire (site of memory) refers to “...any significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community" (Nora 1996)  “Sites of memory,” in Nora’s conception, are artificial and deliberately fabricated “to stop time, to block the work of forgetting,” and may include any location, practice or object "where [cultural] memory crystallizes and secretes itself,” such as archives, museums, cathedrals, cemeteries, memorials, commemorations, rituals, inherited property, emblems, texts, symbols.”  Such sites are paradoxically predicated on loss of memory, i.e. the replacement of memory with history.”  In Nora’s conception, “lieux de mémoire exist because there are no longer milieux de mémoire, settings in which memory is a real part of everyday experience.”

Claude Lanzmann, in a counter-theory, argues that a place such as Płaszów is one of many “non-lieux de mémoire,”  or “non-sites of memory.”   Speaking about his film Shoah, Lanzmann writes that “the point of departure was the disappearance of traces:  nothing remains but a void, and it was necessary to make a film out of this void.”  In Lanzmann’s conception, “non-sites of memory” are mnemonically powerful, and at the same time materially, symbolically and ritually empty, vacant and void.  They involve a scattering or diasporization of memory, and thus tend to produce a practice and rhetoric of return.  Sometimes they exceed geography to encompass whole cultural entities, as in Lanzmann’s remark that “Poland was a non-site of memory.”  Lanzmann’s conception in turn refers to the work of the artist Robert Smithson, whose experimental works in the 1960s and 1970s concerned what he termed “non-sites.”  For Smithson, “the Non-Site (an indoor earthwork) is a three-dimensional logical picture that is abstract, yet it represents and actual site.  It is by this dimensional metaphor that one site can represent another site which does not physically resemble it... Between the actual site and the Non-Site [the work of art drawn from the actual site, displaced elsewhere] exists a space of metaphoric significance.  It could be that ‘travel’ in this space is a vast metaphor.”

Grappling with these arguments, cultural theorist Georges Didi-Huberman speaks of lieux malgré tout “sites in spite of all,” “sites nonetheless”––an assertion against the purported unimaginability or unrepresentability of the Holocaust, and against radical skepticism regarding the status and use of archival materials, as argued for example by Lanzmann.  Cultural theorist Michael Rothman speaks of  noeuds de mémoire (“knots of memory”) in place of lieux de mémoire:  non-static processes of memory production “involving inscription and reinscription, coding and recoding,” and especially “unexpected, multidirectional encounters between diverse pasts and a conflictual present.  Kraków- based theorist Roma Sendyka speaks of performative memory negatively expressed.  Sites such as Płaszów, she writes,  “...are actively present in the life of surrounding communities in such a way that they are passed over, not named, not marked, not built up, unsown—as taboo places. The memory of them is not revealed at the level of material culture (markers are not placed upon them), but rather by way of negation, turning away, turning a blind eye, even radical gestures like littering and vandalizing: these acts appear to be related to ritual acts, magic, primal acts intended for cursed spaces, taboo places, which our culture has associated since, at the very least, Roman times, with death and catastrophe.”

My own contribution to the theoretical debate about Płaszów begins from an etymological distinction between “place” and “site” in the English language.  The English word “site” comes from the Latin sinere, “to set aside, to leave be, to permit” + tus for verbal action to mean “a leaving” or “a setting aside.”  The word “place” comes from the Greek plateia, “broad,” in the sense of “broad street” or “open city space.”  Thus, from English etymology, a site refers to a physical position in space, designated in the act of leaving or going away from it, presumably so that it can be found again.  This is to say that a site exists to enable the possibility of putting it out of mind, of forgetting about it, of allowing inactivity and perhaps neglect to occur there, and so of transferring the task of memory onto the physical location itself.  A place, on the other hand, describes a constructed open space in the inhabited realm, a space left purposefully undefined, such that it is precisely open to experience.  European cities with the word “Plac or Platz or Place or Plaza” in the names of open city squares retain this original meaning.  Putting two plus two together, as English etymology suggests it, a site becomes a place when it touches human experience, openly and invitationally.  So too, a place can be called a site claimed in and for experience.

As I see it, the geography of the Holocaust in contemporary Poland and Ukraine can be emblematically defined as locations that involve an ongoing contest between being sites and being places.  They are sites of memory (places with overtly constructed memorials) that are simultaneously non-sites of memory (places of not-yet-made, imagined and imaginable memorials),  sites of non-memory (places of memorials that dissimulate memory), and non-sites of non-memory (places of not-yet-made, unthought-of memorials).  From my research, such sites are characterized by four key elements.  

1.  They are places whose fullness-in-experience is paradoxically constituted by their being sites left aside.  As such they are at once volatile and marginal, charged and forsaken, rich and abject.

2.  They are sites whose capacity to retain memory, to be “found again,” is paradoxically constituted by their being unfindable.

3.  They are locations where forgetting and remembering tend to converge––strangely––as if they were two aspects of a larger phenomenon of opposing forces described a single verb, though English does not (yet) have such a word.

4.  They are locations positively constituted through what can be called “active indifference”––apathy paradoxically endowed with agency, influence, force, means.

In Kraków, Płaszów is the best example of such a location.  How to formulate public policy mindful of such theoretical complications is a formidable task for which I do not have answers.  I can say, however, that it seems to me that comprehending Płaszów precisely in its contradictoriness and paradox means finding ways not just to think about it––to treat it analytically as a static object of thought and policy-making––but to think by means of it, such that its complications can be approached experientially.  This way of thinking is in my view essential if changes to the site are to occur organically and consensually based on the current reality of the site and the ways people have learned to understand it, rather than be imposed by one party or one authority.  



Official and unofficial attitudes
In 2007-2008, an international design competition was held to determine the future of the site, and to produce a meaningful memorial in compliance with Jewish religious law restricting disturbance of the earth.  The competition was sponsored by the City of Kraków, and undertaken with the consent of the Kraków Jewish Community.  The first prize was awarded to the Proxima group, led by Borisław Czarakcziew.  Proxima’s design proposed that public access to the territory of the former camp be restricted to a complex of elevated walkways beginning at the Grey House and leading visitors to a museum and learning center built near the Ciękiewicz monument.  A variety of criticisms from various quarters gained strength after the winning design was announced, and the Proxima proposal was never implemented.  At this point, the Proxima plan is by default dead, and the future of Płaszów remains in limbo.

The least successful part of my research this summer concerned determining official city policy toward Płaszów.  Simply put, no one in the city returned any of my emails, including Zbigniew Beiersdorf, and I am unable to say anything about the city’s plans or lack of plans for the site.  Obviously this eventuality was quite frustrating.  I was able to interview Dr. Roma Sendyka and Dr. Edyta Gawron as well as Dr. Michał Wiśniewski, all of whom illuminated aspects of the situation that the city faces.  From these interviews, I can infer that the city does not have the political will to initiate any commemorative project.  Why this is the case and exactly what the city’s negotiating position is with regard to the Kraków Jewish Community remain topics for further research.

I was, however, able to interview the president of the Kraków Jewish Community, Tadeusz Jakubowicz.  According to Jakubowicz, the Jewish community “accepts” the Proxima design but has effectively tabled it, primarily owing to its cost.  Instead, since 2012 the Gmina has partnered with the municipality to undertake clearing and landscaping of the site to allow recognition of main square, roads and remaining structures of the site.  Apparently these plans roughly follow suggestions by the office of Zbigniew Beiersdorf in an official municipal study from the early 2000s.   Jakubowicz claims that by the end of 2015, the Gmina plans to open a small museum on the ground floor of the Grey House, and to install tablets providing brief and rudimentary information around the camp itself.  Jakubowicz further speaks of a personal desire to place commemorative markers for the Jews buried in the two Jewish cemeteries beneath the former camp, using a burial registry that he obtained some years ago (a book containing hundreds of names).  He also speaks of independent landscaping plans, including the color schemes of plants and flowers for the site.  In short, it appears to me that the Kraków Jewish Community is following no obvious plan for the development of the site, and certainly not a plan that is the result of a collaboration with the city, or partnership with historical experts from Jagiellonian or other universities, or the involvement of public opinion.  Rather the Gmina is going it alone.  It is pursuing an ad hoc approach to the site, with no particular urgency.  It seems obvious but bears repeating that the Gmina has no expertise in museology, public history or large-scale memorial works, a fact that does not bode well for whatever visions it ultimately realizes.

The largest part of my research this summer was devoted to understanding what ordinary Cracovians do and do not understand about the former camp, and the ways that their actions do and do not express their attitudes and understandings.  If Płaszów is to be reclaimed and integrated into the city’s consciousness as the genocidal site it was, it is necessary first to grasp the particular variety of things it has come to mean in the lifeworld of the contemporary city.  To this end, I wrote a detailed questionnaire and with the help of three assistants, was able to conduct over 61 interviews at Płaszów itself.  My findings are summarized as follows:

Total number of interviews:  61

Men:  49%
Women:  51%

Age demographic:
        Below age 20:    8%
        Age 20-29:        21%
        Age 30-39:        25%
        Age 40-49:        13%
        Age 50-59:        15%
        Age 60-69:        10% 
        Age 70-79:        3%
        Age 80 or above: 3%

Polish citizens:  97%
Foreigners:  3%

Interviewees without Jewish heritage:  98%
Interviewees with Jewish heritage:  2%


Visiting the Płaszów site

Respondents who live within walking distance of Płaszów:  69%

Respondents who go to Płaszów at least once per week:  64%
Respondents who go to Płaszów three to five times per week:  38%

Respondents who have been going to Płaszów for two years or more:  79%
Respondents who have been going to Płaszów for at least five years:  64%
Respondents who have been going to Płaszów ten years or more:  50%

Respondents most comfortable walking the visible paths at the site:  43%
Respondents equally comfortable to leave the paths as to follow them:  48%

Respondents who consider all parts of Płaszów safe:  72%


On Płaszów's history

Respondents who describe themselves as knowing a great deal of Płaszów's history:  16%
Respondents who describe themselves as having a basic knowledge of Płaszów's history:  18%
Respondents who describe themselves as having only minimal knowledge of Płaszów's history:  53%
Respondents who describe themselves as knowing nothing of Płaszów's history:  13%

Respondents who have had a conversation about Płaszów's history while at the site itself:  62%

Respondents who have toured Płaszów with someone they consider knowledgeable about its history:  18%

Respondents who agree or strongly agree with the statement, "Płaszów is one of the most important sites of Holocaust history in Kraków":  85%

Respondents who believe that at least 50,000 people passed through Płaszów:  73%
Respondents who believe that 150,000 or more people passed through Płaszów:  30%

Respondents who believe that 20,000 or more were murdered at Płaszów:  44%

Respondents who believe that there were gas chambers and crematoria at Płaszów:  30%
Respondents who believe there were not gas chambers and crematoria at Płaszów:  41%
Respondents who did not know whether there were gas chambers and crematoria at Płaszów:  30%

Respondents who believe that "What happened at Płaszów is of equal relevance to everyone, Jewish or not Jewish":  79%
Respondents who believe that "What happened at Płaszów is more relevant to Jews than to others":  21%

Respondents who believe that "What happened at Auschwitz is of equal relevance to everyone, Jewish or not Jewish:  92%
Respondents who believe that "What happened at Auschwitz is more relevant to Jews than to others""  6%

Asked to rank Płaszów as a park, no-man's land, or Holocaust site:
    29% ranked it first as a park, 18% ranked it second as a park, 46% ranked it third as a park
    10% ranked it first as no-man's land, 48% ranked it second as no-man's land, 34% ranked it third as no man's land
    64% ranked it first as a Holocaust site, 25% ranked it second as a Holocaust site, 10% ranked it third as a Holocaust site

Respondents who believe there is currently moderate to a great deal of historical signage at Płaszów:  31%
Respondents who believe there is little signage, or none at all that they have noticed:  69%

Respondents who support or strongly support more historical signage at Płaszów:  89%


On changes to Płaszów

Respondents who moderately or strongly support a museum to oversee Płaszów:  31%
Respondents who are either indifferent to museum oversight or oppose it:  33%
Respondents who support some kind of museum presence if not the conversion of the site to a museum:  62%
Respondents who oppose limiting access to the site:  26%

Respondents who report having seen disrespectful activity at Płaszów:  56%
Respondents who do not report having seen disrespectful activity at Płaszów:  44%

Respondents who report an uneasy feeling, hauntedness, or "bad energy" at Płaszów owing to its history:  20%
Respondents who claim no uneasy feeling:  79%

To summarize key points of these findings:

*  An overwhelming majority of people recognized the absolute importance of Płaszów as a site of Holocaust history, comparable to Auschwitz, and like Auschwitz, of broad and not narrowly Jewish relevance.  

*  On the other hand, most people interviewed have by their own admission a poor historical knowledge of the site, though a majority of those interviewed are frequent visitors to the site.

*  A strong majority supported better historical signage of the site.

*  On the question of museum oversight of Płaszów, opinion was mixed.  Many interviewees voiced concerns about the negative consequences of museum oversight.  Chief among these concerns were desires not to restrict public access to the site, not to restrict certain recreational activities which have become commonplace, and not to see the site “commercialized” through museumification.

*  On the question of appropriate vs. inappropriate activities at the site, only about half of people reported having seen or heard about certain behaviors they considered inappropriate, specifically drinking and engaging in sex, but described this phenomenon as rare.  When the question was asked differently, responses became more complex.  For example, respondents became more pensive and less certain when asked “Would you consider kite flying, dog walking, sunbathing or bicycle riding an appropriate behavior at Auschwitz, and if not, do you consider it appropriate for Płaszów, given that you see the two sites as comparable?”  Very often these very activities were going on during the interview process itself, even by those interviewed.  I photographed these behaviors repeatedly.  The following pictures, to sample some of them, were made beside the cluster of well known monuments––on the very site of the burning of thousands of corpses, though this information is not publicly signed and most people do not realize it.


What became apparent through these conversations is that unresolved contradictions exist in everyday understandings of the site.  People who have basic historical knowledge about what happened at the site may have a very poor understanding of exactly where the camp was, with many people assuming it to have been much smaller than was in fact the case, and limited to the area where the monuments are concentrated.  Similarly, a certain resistance to change at Płaszów was palpable even among people who in principle did not agree with the status quo.  The reasons for this qualitative resistance are uncertain to me, though three types of reasons seem to exist.  

First, there is clearly a need for recreational space in the southern Podgórze section of the city, and in the absence of city planning to accommodate that need, it is natural that local people gravitate to an unregulated site such as Płaszów, which in time has become recoded as a park-like space in everyday life, even as people recognize and regard it as a Holocaust site.

Second, there remains for many Cracovians an unspoken distinction between Polish and Jewish historical suffering, the former being “ours” and the latter “theirs,” notwithstanding principled statements to the contrary.  Such unspoken views seem to influence how everyday morality is enacted in public space.  If a specifically Polishly-signed atrocity such as the Katyn massacres had occurred at Płaszów, for example, it stands to reason that ordinary Cracovians would view recreational activities at the site as inappropriate.  And indeed, many interviewees agreed when I asked them this very question, even as they saw the same behaviors as harmless at Płaszów, a primarily Jewishly-signed site.  If in fact such a subliminal distinction exists between Polish and Jewish historical suffering, I would not attribute it to active anti-semitism.  There may be elements of passive anti-semitism, but mostly it seems to be a function of the habitual local view of the site as a park––in the vacuum of leadership and initiative that would define it otherwise.

Third, there is a broadly legitimated apathy when it comes to everyday attitudes about the past and future of Płaszów.  Half of respondents had by their own admission little knowledge of Płaszów’s history, and many told anecdotes of piecemeal learning.  Some who had grown up around the site of the former camp recalled their local schools taking them as children to play at the site, but not bothering to teach about its history.  In several cases, the process of interviewing itself led to conversations that provided the most concrete historical education respondents reported having had.  Even as most respondents agreed, when explicitly asked, that more coordinated and organized Holocaust commemoration at Płaszów would be proper, there was no consensus that ignorance and unconcern about the site are pressing matters.  My sense––though it would be difficult to measure statistically––is that for a great many locals, the acknowledged problems with the apathetic status quo are preferable to any new commemorative work that significantly impinges upon current recreational use of the site.  




Recommendations
Change at Płaszów, if it is to come––and I hope it will come––must be gradual, and part of a determined effort to work with public opinion rather than to impose solutions on the public.  Inasmuch as I am in a position to make recommendations, they are as follows.

1.  An independent body should be established to oversee the site of the former camp.  By “independent” I mean independent of the Kraków Jewish Community, independent of the city museum authority, and independent of the city council, though endorsed by all of these bodies.  The simplest solution might be to bring the site under the auspices of the Auschwitz Museum or the Majdanek Museum, if they are open to that consideration.  This oversight body would be charged with overall maintenance of the site, with developing a realizable long-term plan for a suitable permanent memorial, for management of the site’s use, and for coordinated educational and public programming.

2.  Creating, funding and launching such an overseeing body is, of course, a complex process that would take years to complete.  In the interim, a working committee should be established to begin the process of transitioning the site from its current status.  This committee should be a joint initiative between the city and the Kraków Jewish Community, with academic and outside experts brought in as necessary.  One of the main concrete tasks of this committee would be to create and install tablets throughout the site, whose purpose would be to provide badly needed public information, and to begin the process of changing the public’s perception of the site, and in time, the public’s behavior.  Information, as the saying goes, is cheap, and it seems possible thoroughly to mark the site at a reasonable cost, which is to say far far less than what would be required for a permanent large-scale memorial.  It is important that this working committee be understood from the beginning as a temporary entity, to be replaced  in time with a properly established and funded overseeing body, as outlined above.

3.  Public education is a key component of any successful transition of the Płaszów site.  Płaszów is, to repeat, the largest and one of the most important Holocaust sites in Kraków, and one of the most important in southern Poland.  I recommend that the city council create a plan that would develop a comprehensive approach to teaching the Holocaust to area high school students, if such a curriculum does not already exist.  Płaszów should be incorporated into this curriculum as a primary teaching resource.  An ambitiously written curriculum would go a step further, and involve high school students directly in the creation of the informational and signage tasks described above.  An even more ambitiously written curriculum would devise strategies for Polish high school students to partner with German, Israeli and other Jewish high school students, such that international and inter-communal dialogue about the lessons of the Holocaust were embraced as a key teaching methodology.  Or to put it differently, teaching the Holocaust should be broadened to include not just classroom experience and not just traditional teaching techniques.  An educational plan of this sort should be endorsed at the highest levels of city government and the city school system.  If well designed, I see no reason it could not be funded from EU sources.

4.  In addition to a concerted educational initiative, the city should take steps to bring Płaszów to public attention in new and creative ways.  A series of open public discussions––what in the United States are known as “town hall meetings”––should be planned to last over at least a year’s time.  The purpose of these meetings would be to encourage public involvement, debate and dialogue.  Because of the painfulness and complexity of the site, it is to be expected that these meetings may be turbulent and difficult, but in my view such turbulence is to be embraced as part of the maturation of democratic culture.  In time, such meetings will have the effect of bringing Płaszów squarely into public consciousness as a common subject requiring action.  Further, I recommend that the city authorize a  series of public art projects about the site, drawing on the creative energies of artists from around the world.  These works would be chosen in open competition and would be temporary.  A jury comprised of curators and artists should be developed to oversee this project.  The impact of well-considered public art about the site would have a far reaching effect both for the city and for international audiences, especially those who know little about the site.  As with the educational initiative, it seems likely to me that such an artistic project would be fundable from EU sources.


Jason Francisco, Kraków, December 2015