Scrapbookpages Blog

July 26, 2011

Did the Nazis use Jewish tombstones to pave roads?

Filed under: Holocaust, movies — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:00 am

Today I read this on the blog of a Derbyshire student who had recently visited the Auschwitz camp and the nearby town of Oswiecim:

“When the Nazis invaded Poland the cemetery (in Oswiecim) was destroyed and the gravestones were reportedly used as paving slabs. After the war someone rounded up as many of the gravestones as they could and rebuilt the cemetery.”

The operative word here is reportedly.  Who reported this?  The claim of gravestones being used as paving slabs is reminiscent of the scene in Schindler’s List which shows a road through the Plaszów labor camp that was allegedly built with tombstones.

Road made with tombstones

The photo above is from this website.  The caption reads:

Krakow – “Liban” quarry. Place, where prisoners from nazi concentration camp “Plaszow” was working…

But this is not real – this is only scenography made for movie “Schindler’s List”… Nevertheless – this is scary place…

Schindler’s List is a fictional movie, loosely based on a true story.  Here is a quote from a web site which explains the symbols and themes in Speilberg’s movie:

The road through the Plaszów labor camp, paved with headstones torn up from Jewish cemeteries, is a replica of the actual road that existed there. The road adds to the historical accuracy of the film but also symbolizes the destruction of the Jewish race. The removal of the headstones from the cemeteries represents the enormity of the Holocaust. Unsatisfied with simply wiping out existing Jews, Goeth, by planning the road, denies acknowledgement of many Jews’ final resting places. By removing the grave markers, Goeth in effect erases the existence of the dead. Moreover, Goeth forces the Jews in the camp to build the road, rubbing in their faces the fact that they, too, will soon be erased. The message is clear: the Nazis view the Jews as not worth even grave markers and want only to erase them from history.

Are there any photos of the “actual road that existed” at Plaszów?  There are plenty of old photos of the Autobahn, but I’ve never seen a photo of “an actual road” that was paved with tombstones.

Location of the former Plaszów concentration camp

In October 1998, I visited the site of the former Plaszów camp and took the photo above; it shows the spot where the barracks of the Plaszów concentration camp once stood. The camp was surrounded by houses on three sides and on the fourth side was a road, which is shown in the picture.

The camp Commandant, Amon Goeth, lived in a house that is out of camera range in the above picture; his former house is located to the right and behind a hill so that it cannot be seen from this spot. The fictional Schindler’s List movie shows Amon Goeth shooting prisoners from the balcony of his house although the camp cannot be seen from his house.

To reach the site of the former Plaszów camp, which is 10 kilometers from the city center of Krakow, my private tour guide drove up a hill on a rutted one-lane dirt road, thinly covered with small white granite rocks. Maybe that was the road that was allegedly paved with tombstones, and my tour guide neglected to mention it.

The construction of the Plaszów labor camp began in June 1942.  The photo below shows part of the fence around the camp.

Original fence posts around Plaszów camp

This quote is from a guidebook which I purchased at the Eagle Pharmacy museum in Krakow:

“According to the Heydrich plan the Plaszów 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.”

According to my 1998 tour guide, the granite quarries near the future location of the Plaszów camp were owned by a Jew, and the Nazis confiscated his property without compensation. There was a Jewish mortuary chapel near the cemetery, which my guide told me the Nazis converted into a stable. There are many other stories of the Nazis using a Jewish place of worship as a stable.

Although crushed granite from the quarries was readily available, the Nazis allegedly desecrated Jewish graves by ripping out the tombstones, then using slabs of the broken grave stones to pave the camp road, like stepping stones in a garden.

Gravestones used for a road, as shown in Schindler’s List fictional movie  Photo Credit:

A street in the main Auschwitz camp that is paved with decomposed granite

A street in the main Auschwitz camp that is paved with decomposed granite

Close-up of a street in the main Auschwitz camp

Close-up of a street in the main Auschwitz camp

As shown in the two photos above, the streets of the Auschwitz main camp were paved with crushed granite, but according to the fictional Shindler’s List movie, the Nazis couldn’t be bothered with making a crushed granite road through the Plaszów camp.   Now British teen-aged students are being told the story that the Oswiecim cemetery was reportedly raided for stones to pave roads in Auschwitz.

It would have required a lot of unnecessary work to pave the streets of the Plaszow camp with unbroken headstones; it is difficult to make a level path with stones of different thickness.

On my trip to Poland in 1998, I also visited the Majdanek death camp, where I purchased a guidebook, which said that the path into the camp, called “the black path,” was paved with tombstones.

I also visited a Jewish cemetery in Krakow in 1998 and again in 2005. According to my 1998 tour guide, the cemetery adjacent to the Remu’h Synagogue in Krakow was desecrated by German soldiers who used the grave stones for target practice. The broken pieces of the stones were put into a memorial wall, which the guide said is called the Wailing Wall.

Wailing Wall in Krakow is made of broken tombstones

View of the Wailing Wall from outside the cemetery