Jonathan in Poland

Jonathan, a junior in the Creative Writing program in Dedman College’s English Department, is participating in the SMU Human Rights Education Program’s December trip to Poland. There, program director Rick Halperin will lead visits to World War II Nazi death camps.

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Plaszow: A work camp

From the get-go, we’re told that this will be a short day of sights and a long day of driving. I had no idea.

We’re on the highway for maybe 10 minutes heading out of downtown Krakow when we begin to pull off onto the shoulder. Next to a gas station and a few stores, I immediately think that we must be having engine trouble or something. But we’re here.

The Plaszow camp was originally a work camp situated above a rock quarry. Famously featured in Schindler’s List, the hill where commandant Amon Goth had his plush mansion now features a huge stone relief with grave faces staring down and a few small plaques.

Despite the historical significance, though, it’s just on the shoulder of the highway with next to no parking space or accessibility. The world’s largest ball of twine is more accessible than this commemorative statue to a concentration camp.

More like a city park than a historical site, people walk through it as though it were a shortcut and let their dogs run around off their leashes. As we walk up to one of the small plaques written in Hebrew where the residue of an anti-Semitic remark in spray paint is still visible, a dog comes up and pees on it. It’s heartbreaking.

It’s one thing to have a site of remembrance integrated into a community where it is utilized and thus its memory lives on. It’s another when people have become so desensitized to a place’s meaning that they walk through it with utter disregard. It’s not as though the giant monument shaped like a headstone didn’t have the word “Hitlerowskich” the size of a truck carved into it or anything. Trying to take in the power of this site and its meaning when the stone monument is dwarved by the neighboring “Castorama” sign. It’s hard to imagine what this place would have been like had Schindler’s List not been made.

Leaving the camp somewhat disheartened and disillusioned, we pass the ceramics factory where Oskar Schindler employed his Jewish workers, a virtual oasis of safety in World War II Krakow. It’s closed for rennovation, but it’s at least nice to see that some things are moving up in the world.

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