Postcards from Poland: The Story Behind the Photo

Postcards from Poland is our official conference blog, designed to provide more information about the Urban Jewish Heritage conference, the history and historical sites of the local area, and tips for places to visit during your trip to Poland. If you have any tips to share, or stories to tell, please do get in touch by emailing heritageconference@contacts.bham.ac.uk

In the first of our Postcards from Poland series, we wanted to delve a little deeper into the story behind the photograph from our Conference postcard. 

The chairs that are depicted are part of a monument that is located at Plac Bohaterów Getta (the Ghetto Heroes’ Square), known before 1948 as Plac Zgody (the Concordia Square), in the Podgórze district of Kraków. The memorial, designed by Krakow architects Piotr Lewicki and Kazimierz Łatak, features 33 large illuminated chairs made of cast iron and bronze, and 37 smaller chairs that are scattered around the edge of the square.

In March 1941, during the Second World War and the Nazi occupation of Poland, the centre of the Podgórze district was established as a Jewish Ghetto, built around the area’s main market square. By the resettlement deadline of 20th March 1941, over 18,000 Jews were forcibly moved into an area that had previously been home to approximately 3,000 people. The area was sealed off with high walls and guarded checkpoints, one of which can still be seen in the square today. In May 1942, the Nazis surrounded the ghetto, and over ten terrible days, began to systematically deport the Jewish prisoners to the Bełżec death camp in eastern Poland. These brutal events were followed by a campaign of destruction in Krakow which continued until March 1943 when the final ‘liquidation’ of the Ghetto was ordered. During this time, tens of thousands of Jewish people lost their lives and the square, standing empty of its inhabitants, was strewn with the looted belongings of the victims.

After the war had ended, the square was renamed Plac Bohaterów Getta (the Ghetto Heroes’ Square) and in 2005 it was redesigned as part of a project entitled “Nowy Plac Zgody” which means “New Concordia Square”. The memorial of the bronze chairs were designed by the architects to represent the furniture that was left lying in the street after the ghetto’s residents were rounded up for the final time in 1943.

The renewal of the square 13 years ago highlights one of the many challenges that we seek to explore during the Conference. In cities that may once have been rich in tangible urban Jewish heritage, the notable absence leaves intangible traces on the urban landscape. In what ways can these traces be interpreted, conserved and sensitively developed to keep up with the ever-changing demands of a city, whilst safeguarding them for future generations?

 

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