You are here
Home > News > ‘Death camp dog tours aim to return victims’ dignity and open dialogue’ says Kraków Jewish group

‘Death camp dog tours aim to return victims’ dignity and open dialogue’ says Kraków Jewish group

Titled Żyd, Sąsiad i Pies (Jew, Neighbour and Dog), the two-hour tours at the site of the Płasów concentration camp where an estimated 8,000 Jews were killed during WWII, have sought to open dialogue with local residents whilst simultaneously educating them as to how to use the site in a way that is respectful of Jewish burial laws.
Pracownia Obrazu 2.0/ FestivALT/Facebook

A Kraków-based NGO has launched a series of guided dog walks around the former area of Płaszów concentration camp.

Organized by FestivALT, an independent Jewish arts collective, the initiative was successfully piloted at the start of the year and now three more events are planned to take place this weekend and then later in the summer.

First premiering in January, the opening walk was not widely publicized but still warmly received by curious local residents – and their four-legged friends.Pracownia Obrazu 2.0/ FestivALT/Facebook

Titled Żyd, Sąsiad i Pies (Jew, Neighbour and Dog), the two-hour tours have sought to open dialogue with local residents whilst simultaneously educating them as to how to use the site in a way that is respectful of Jewish burial laws.

First established in October 1942 by occupying German forces, KL Płaszów was built on two Jewish cemeteries and grew to cover a total of 80 hectares. At its peak, approximately 25,000 prisoners were interred there – the majority of which were Polish Jews.

Although no mass extermination facilities existed, the camp gained notoriety for its brutality and grim conditions. It is commonly thought that between five to eight thousand people died there as a result of starvation, disease and arbitrary executions.

Led by Aleksander Schwarz (pictured), an expert on Jewish burial laws and customs, the tour takes in the key sights of Płaszów with walkers also issued with headsets so as to allow dog owners to roam with their pets at their own pace.Pracownia Obrazu 2.0/ FestivALT/Facebook

Often carried out on a nearby hill by the name of Hujowa Górka, shootings became one of the most common causes of death – as the war neared its end, it is said that 17 truckloads of human ash were exhumed from the site in a desperate bid to obliterate all traces of war crimes.

However, despite its dark history and its location within Kraków’s boundaries, the site has traditionally struggled to attract attention outside its immediate environs. This stands to change with the future opening of a museum and exhibition centre, but for the time being the subject of how the site should be commemorated has often been met with apathy and muddled thinking.

Speaking to TFN, Magda Rubenfeld, co-director of FestivALT, said: “This is definitely not a traditional commemoration site because for decades nothing has really been done at Płaszów.Magda Rubenfeld

Speaking to TFN, Magda Rubenfeld, co-director of FestivALT, said: “This is definitely not a traditional commemoration site because for decades nothing has really been done at Płaszów. Awareness of its existence is minimal – even among Krakovians – and the city have continued to issue building permits so that what we now actually commemorate is only about half of the actual site.”

With swathes of the site swallowed by supermarkets, McDonald’s and other modern day developments, other sections have simply been left to the carefree hand of nature.

“We think the site needs a different approach,” says Rubenfeld, “and there’s a lot of ongoing work to raise consciousness of it – after all, how can people treat the area as it deserves if they don’t even know its significance.”

First established in October 1942 by occupying German forces, KL Płaszów was built on two Jewish cemeteries and grew to cover a total of 80 hectares. At its peak, approximately 25,000 prisoners were interred there – the majority of which were Polish Jews.Public domain

Involved with the site since 2017, FestivALT have done much to increase Płaszów’s public profile, though it is their latest initiative that is arguably the most creative.

“Lots of people walk their dogs here,” says Rubenfeld, “and as dog lovers ourselves it was natural for us to include pets on these tours we’ve organized.”

Although no mass extermination facilities existed, the camp gained notoriety for its brutality and grim conditions. It is commonly thought that between five to eight thousand people died there as a result of starvation, disease and arbitrary executions.Adrian Grycuk/CC BY-SA 3.0 pl

First premiering in January, the opening walk was not widely publicized but still warmly received by curious local residents – and their four-legged friends.

Led by Aleksander Schwarz, an expert on Jewish burial laws and customs, the tour takes in the key sights of Płaszów with walkers also issued with headsets so as to allow dog owners to roam with their pets at their own pace.

“We know approximately where the mass graves are located,” says Rubenfeld, “and while its unlikely people will come across them due to the fact they’re hidden under tangles of trees, it’s very possible a dog will.”

Despite its dark history and its location within Kraków’s boundaries, the site has traditionally struggled to attract attention outside its immediate environs.Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

By increasing knowledge as to where people were once buried, these walks will allow the site’s visitors to treat it in a more respectful way by not treading over former graves. “We want to ensure that the area is given its dignity back,” says Rubenfeld.

Moreover, FestivALT have been keen to bridge relationships between locals and the Jewish community.

“We invite discussion on these walks,” says Rubenfeld. “We really want people to think about what the site can become and to think how to join its wartime history to its post-war role.”

By increasing knowledge about where people were once buried, these walks will allow the site’s visitors to treat it in a more respectful way by not treading over former graves. “We want to ensure that the area is given its dignity back,” says Rubenfeld.Pracownia Obrazu 2.0/ FestivALT/Facebook

Previously, there have been times when the site has been the topic of fierce debate with many locals expressing fears that they will lose their recreation space. Finding a middle ground, says Rubenfeld, is key.

“We’ve come to realize that for commemoration to be successful we need strong strategies that involve the locals. A lot of them also care deeply for the site, and I think all sides need to compromise a little to find a way that everyone can use the area in a manner that respects the past.”

Adding markers to delineate the now dismantled cemeteries and mass graves is one step that Rubenfeld is keen to promote, though as things stand the future of Płaszów remains murky.

Rubenfeld said: “We invite discussion on these walks. We really want people to think about what the site can become and to think how to join its wartime history to its post-war role.”Pracownia Obrazu 2.0/ FestivALT/Facebook

“We know there will be plaques, we know there will be a museum, and we know there will be an exhibition,” says Rubenfeld, “but actual details remain thin. My hope is that whatever happens next will be a participatory process that engages the community.”

Underlining the area’s unique position as a place of memory and a place of leisure, according to Rubenfeld the two functions should not be mutually exclusive.

“We could choose to simply put up somber markers and signposts,” she says, “but personally I feel that we can make this a site of living memory by introducing more events such as these dog walks, lectures or even walks to collect herbs. Doing so, we can cultivate a tangible culture of memory.”


Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /var/www/warsawpoint/data/www/warsawpoint.com/wp-content/themes/accesspress-mag/content-single.php on line 69

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Top