It has come to my attention, after reading a comment on one of my blog posts, that there is a serious misconception, among today’s youth, about how the Plaszow camp actually looked and where the home of Commandant Amon Goeth was located. Plaszow is the camp that is featured in the movie Schindler’s List. Since Schindler’s List has been shown in American schools for years, young people think that everything in the film is the gospel truth and that the movie portrays accurate history.
Basically, the movie Shindler’s List is the story of the quintessential evil Nazi (Amon Goeth) and the one good Nazi (Oskar Schindler) who is the hero of the movie. The evil Nazi killed Jews for sport and the one good Nazi made a list of the Jews (Shindler’s List) that he was going to save from the gas chamber. In real life, both Amon Goeth and Oskar Schindler were notorious drunks and both were womanizers. They were the same age, the same height and build, and the same in their beliefs: they were both Nazis.
The Plaszow camp was located 10 kilometers outside the city of Krakow. The photo below shows an old photo of the Plaszow camp.
The movie set was built inside the Liban quarry, where prisoners from the Plaszow camp worked, although there were no barracks inside the quarry, and the prisoners did not live inside the quarry.
The actual Plaszow camp was built near the site of two Jewish Cemeteries. According to the fictional movie Schindler’s List, the Nazis used whole tombstones to build a path through the camp. Spielberg reconstructed this alleged path inside the Liban quarry and it was left there for tourists to see.
Would the Nazis really have made roads or paths from whole tombstones? I don’t think so. They would have crushed the tombstones to make crushed granite. The paths in the main Auschwitz camp are covered with crushed brick and decomposed granite, as shown in the photo below.
In the movie, Schindler’s List, it appears that the house, where Amon Goeth allegedly shot prisoners from the balcony, was only a few feet from the Plaszow camp. In real life, the house with the balcony was far away from the camp and behind a hill.
When I visited the site of the former Plaszow camp in 1998, my private tour guide drove us up a hill, on a rutted one-lane dirt road, thinly covered with small white granite rocks. This was the site of two Jewish cemeteries before the Nazis built a labor camp. Amon Goeth’s house, which had a balcony on the rear of the building, was near the site of the two Jewish cemeteries, which are now long gone.
The granite quarry, near where the Plaszow camp was built, was at that time owned by a Jew, but the Nazis confiscated the property, without compensation, for their labor camp. There was a Jewish mortuary chapel near the cemetery, which the Nazis converted into a stable.
Shown in the background of the photo above, up on a high plateau, is the back side of the large Holocaust monument, which faces the city of Krakow. On the right side of the photo, you can see some of the buildings of the city of Krakow in the distance.
It was on this plateau that mass executions took place, according to testimony in the trial of Amon Goeth in a Polish court in 1946. According to survivors of the Plaszow camp, 8,000 bodies were later dug up and burned on pyres in order to destroy the evidence. Goeth, who was charged with responsibility for these 8,000 deaths, was convicted and hanged.
According to my tour guide, some of the barracks of the Plaszow forced labor camp were located on the terraced terrain that you see in the foreground of the photo above; portions of the barrack foundations are still visible.
The construction of the Plaszow camp began in June 1942. A guidebook, which I purchased at the Eagle Pharmacy museum in Podgorze, the former Jewish ghetto in Krakow, says this:
“According to the Heydrich plan the Plaszow camp and its sub camps were meant to constitute a stage in the concentration of the Jews deported to the East. The camp was built on the area of two cemeteries at Jerozolimska and Abrahama street. The location of the camp — near the Plaszow railroad station — made the access to communication tracks relatively easy.”
The “Heydrich plan” was a reference to the conference which SS officer Reinhard Heydrich led on January 20, 1942 at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin. This is where plans were made for the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”
Today, it is not possible to walk around the former Plaszow camp because the area is now a nature preserve. The photograph below shows a sign which stands just to the left of where the photo above was taken; the sign says that this is a nature preserve because of the rare plants, native to the area, which are located here. Because this is a protected area, Spielberg could not build a movie set here. Besides, the monument would have shown in the background.
The story of Amon Goeth shooting prisoners at random from his balcony is one of those events that happened, but are not true (as Elie Wiesel famously said).