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Essential Krakow • Krakow Concentration Camps

Concentration Camps

Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, much of Western Poland was incorporated into Germany. Large parts of occupied central and southern Poland came under a new, German administrative region called the General Government. Krakow became the capital of the General Government and its governor, Hans Frank, established his headquarters in Wawel Castle.

Extermination camps, which were established for the sole purpose of murdering Jews and other groups deemed undesirable by the Nazis, and concentration or labour camps, were built across occupied Poland. Two of the most notorious camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Plaszow, were constructed close to Krakow.

Auschwitz is perhaps the most infamous of the Nazi camps built in Poland. It consisted of three main camps and up to 45 satellite camps constructed in and around the town of Oswiecim, approximately 50 kilometres west of Krakow.

Auschwitz I, the original camp, was a prototype for other extermination and labour camps. It was here that some of the first Nazi experiments in mass murder took place, and also where many non-Jewish Poles were imprisoned and executed. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was purely an extermination camp. Auschwitz III-Monowitz was a labour camp. The Nazi labour camps were intended to provide slave labour to German industry rather than to kill, but the poor conditions meant that many of the inmates perished. Many more were killed when no longer able to work.

The Nazi concentration camp at Plaszow, a district of Krakow on the south bank of the Vistula, was a labour camp. It also had several sub-camps, one of which was Oskar Schindler's factory on Lipowa Street. The main Plaszow camp was completely dismantled by the Germans as Soviet troops neared Krakow in 1945, and the bodies of thousands of its victims were disinterred and burned in an attempt to eradicate evidence.