Sunday, 31 January 2016

Liban Quarry

The Liban quarry 
The Liban quarry featured prominently in Speilberg's film "Schindler's List". This pre-war limestone quarry was used for the set depicting Płaszów concentration camp. So, to clear up any confusion, this quarry was NOT in real life part of Płaszów. It WAS however a penal camp where 800 young poles were incarcerated from 1942 - 1944, and who suffered at the hands of their cruel Nazi captors. Beatings and death were dealt out liberally. In fact, a small monument,  which is extremely difficult to find, exists at the ul. Za Torem side of the quarry to 21 inmates executed when the camp was liberated. Speilberg used the quarry as he did not want to film on the site of the neighbouring Płaszów out of respect for the camp's victims. To read the full story of the Liban Quarry - visit the Liban Quarry Page.
The quarry, limekilns and double "concentration camp" fence
Old quarry machinery
The Liban quarry itself actually dates back to 1873, and was established by two well known Jewish families from Podgórze for limestone for the production of quicklime. What remains today is an overgrown tangle of remnants of all these activities - working quarry, penal camp and film set! It certainly becomes very confusing when trying to decipher what remnant dates to what activity! What is evident though, is the creepy air that lies trapped within the vertical limestone walls of this ex-camp, a mere walk from the centre of Kraków.
The main way to acceess the quarry is from the Krakus mound. Stroll along the rim of the cliffs, following the fence until you come to a large cemetery. Proceed through a gap between the fences a short way. You will shorty come to a point where the dirt path veers to the right. Follow it and you will immediately find a path following a long angled ramp down to the floor of the quarry. After this, it is a case of foraging your way through the thick tangle of undergrowth to the various remnants that lie hidden within. The most obvious remnants are the large, tall, rusting limekilns which really do date back to the war. If you scramble up to these, lurking in the trees close by, are the remains of the fake camp commandant's house that Speilberg constructed on a terraced perch overlooking the rest of the quarry.
Don't miss the central road running through the floor of the quarry, which appears to be made of smashed up Jewish gravestones. Once again, this is a remnant from the film set mimicking the road of gravestones that really did exist leading into the real Płaszów camp. I am led to believe however, that the road made for the film set was made from casts of real gravestones. That said, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find it, as the quarry is gradually being swallowed up by nature. I have even heard the site is becoming a haven for wild flowers, rare lizards and birds who forage amongst the gallows, barbed wire and wooden fences posts with electric insulators.
Road made from smashed Jewish gravestones lurking under the snow
Speilberg's concentration camp fence

Electric insulators still on Speilberg's fence
What a visit to the quarry undoubtedly gives the visitor, is a chance to wander independently, sometimes filled with apprehension, visiting the darkest recesses of Kraków's history. Since it is such an overgrown forage into confusing aspects of the worst cruelty man can deal out to fellow human beings, a visit to here, and the neighbouring Płaszów camp, can provoke ponderous soul searching which can be more poignant than a trip to Auschwitz.
Message plastered on one of the quarry's ruined buildings - a message for us all!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Nowa Huta

The giant gates at the entrance to the Sendzimir Steelworks, Nowa Huta, Krakow
Nowa Huta in full throttle
Fans of George Orwell, 1984, Brave New World etc etc will LOVE Nowa Huta! It sits in total contrast to the original old town of Kraków and is a Socialist Realist paradise. It is one of only two totally pre-planned Socialist Realist cities ever built in the world and is a giant piece of evidence of the Soviet Empire's social engineering. The area warrants as much attention by visitors as Kraków's old town, but as yet, is not part of the average tourist's itinerary. It seems sad that many people visit Kraków and will simply hang out in the old town, make a day visit to Auschwitz and the Salt Mines then leave. Areas such as Nowa Huta hold just as much historical significance.
Aleja Róż, Nowa Huta, Krakow
Prior to its construction, farmland and the village of Kościelniki existed here. Construction of Nowa Huta commenced in 1947 and it was to be an entirely proletarian settlement which would fly in the face of the filthy, vile, bourgeoisie excesses of its nasty neighbour: Kraków.
Nowa Huta was built on prime agricultural land
It was paid for by the Soviet Union, and it was to be a model city for 100,000 inhabitants to showpiece the ethos of the strength of the workers. It's architects implemented all sorts of design features to cater for and deal with the potential threats to safety at the time. For example, the streets are very wide to help halt the spread of fire. The trees on the tree lined boulevards were there to soak up the blast from a NATO nuclear bomb. The layout was a fortress in disguise with lots of nooks and crannies to conduct guerrilla warfare from in the event of a western invasion. The buildings are large and impressive, and the style is labelled Socialist Realist architecture. 
The impressive Socialist Realist architecture, Nowa Huta, Krakow
Grand alleyways and hidden nooks to withstand NATO attack
Nooks and crannies to conduct guerrilla warfare
According to legend, the construction of Nowa Huta was quite a project with workers housed in tents during the depths of the winter cold in the chaos of post war Poland. There are ghost stories of the less fortunate worker's bodies being buried in the very foundations of the buildings.
The main focus of life of the settlement however was based around the totally ginormous steelworks. Indeed, Nowa Huta literally translates as "New Steel Mill". These works were called the "Lenin Steelworks", employed 40,000 workers when they were in full tilt, were the largest in the whole of Poland and annually produced over 7 million tonnes of steel. Today they are owned by ArcelorMittal and have been renamed after the scientist and engineer Tadeusz Sendzimir.
Despite the intention of the designers of Nowa Huta that it should be a symbol of proletarian strength and the New World Order, embarrassingly, through a twist of fate, it was this that was to bring about the downfall of the very regime that created it in the first place. The concentration of proletarian steel workers in Nowa Huta meant it lead to it being a forerunner in the Solidarity movement. Street demonstrations and battles with the police in the 1980s fuelled the drive that eventually overturned the Communist regime.
Nowa Huta 
To tour Nowa Huta, you can arrange to do so in that old symbol of Eastern Block life, a Trabant car should you wish. This can be booked with "Crazy Guides" Alternatively book a Communism Tour with "Krakow Tours".
Krakow Tours. Even better though, you can tour with local experts through Nowa Huta Travel. This offers you the opportunity of immersing yourself in Communist Poland by not just being offered a full tour of the district, but also the chance to visit underground shelters designed for crisis management under the steelworks. Imagine the chance to truly experience the Cold War from the Warsaw Pact viewpoint. Unmissable! Do it before the crowds discover it. Nowa Huta Tour
However, if you don't fancy a tour, it is very easy to simply jump on a tram to the district by yourself and conduct your own tour. You might even consider hiring a bike and cycling there. There are well signposted, separate cycle lanes all the way. 
Plac Centralny, Nowa Huta, Karkow
If arriving to embark on your own solo tour, best to jump off the tram at Plac Centralny first. This is the centre of the hub Nowa Huta is based around, and the district fans out in a sunburst fashion from here. This square used to be named after Stalin, but rather ironically it is now named "Ronald Reagan Square"!! Believe it or not, he was credited with being one of the main driving forces that brought about the end of the Cold War. Here you are immediately introduced to the giant grandeur of the Socialist Realist buildings. They are very impressive. From Plac Centralny, you should then make your way up the main, wide artery from here named Roses Avenue (Aleja Róż). Here, after walking past wide squares, old style cafes/milk bars (which are an absolute must to experience old style 1980s life) you will find the Nowa Huta District Museum at 16 Słoneczne Estate on your right.
Aleja Róż, Nowa Huta
Street plan, Nowa Huta
Nowa Huta life
'Old style' cafe
Lenin lives!
Wide tree lined streets to stop the spread of fire and cushion a NATO nuclear blast
Summer - Nowa Huta style
The next stop on your tour should be the gargantuan steel works. Just jump on a tram at Plac Centralny that heads in the direction of al. Solidarności. At the end of this long boulevard are the entrance gates to the works. These are very impressive! Constructed on an enormous scale, they herald the main access point to the works. Unfortunately, unless you have special permission or are attending a function or concert that has been arranged in the canning factory, tourists cannot proceed beyond this point. However, if you happen to be there during a change of shift, you will witness an Orwellian scene that would thoroughly inspire the Lowry in you! Swarms of workers cascade their way to the tram and bus stops which are serviced by a variety of huts and stalls serving beer. Alternatively, visit on a Sunday. The place is deserted but it means you can wander around without being harassed by traffic.
One of the giant gate houses, steelworks entrance, Nowa Huta
The Steelworks entrance

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Płaszów Updates!

Please do have a scan of the updates made to the Płaszów Concentration Camp page!
Ruins of the former Jewish Cemetery at Płaszów