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Information Text: Krakow – Communism 1945-1956 - The summary of the German occupation

The quarries “Liban,” the German work camp in Płaszów, 2008, Photo: Gosia

On September 9, 1939, Kraków was taken by German forces. The occupying army imposed upon the city the severe regime of marshal law. A curfew was introduced, all activities considered hostile to the German authorities were punished by death. A great part of the Polish territory was annexed and joined directly to the Third Reich. The rest was transformed into the so called General Government, with Kraków as its capital. Kraków, five times smaller than Warszawa and situated in the close vicinity of the former German border, seemed much easier to germanise. In Nazi times, around 30 various prisons and camps operated there. The Montelupich prison, St. Michał prison and prison at Pomorska Street, where the Gestapo headquarters were located, were most notorious and constantly overcrowded.

In the first years of the occupation, repressive actions took the form of street round-ups. In the years 1940 – 194, such mass arrests took place at least ten times. All-embracing terror could not, however, prevent the development of the Polish resistance conspiracy striking at the weakest points of the German war machinery. That is why, at the end of 1943, mass public executions became yet another tool of German terror and oppression. They had been preceded by the decree of Hans Frank, the Governor-General of the General Government, from October 2, 1943, superimposing a death penalty on persons who obstructed “the German rebuilding activities.” Numerous public executions took place in various towns close to Kraków. From the middle of 1940, Germans started evicting Cracovians from the most modern living quarters situated west from the Three Bards Alleys (Aleje Trzech Wieszczów). The living quarters were to provide accommodation for Germans coming to Kraków. The systematic expulsions of Poles were accompanied by the deportation of the Jewish population to the ghetto on Podgórze. The evicted Poles were moved into the Jewish flats mainly in Kazimierz and Stardom. It is estimated that till the middle of 1944 more than one third of the whole Kraków population lost its homes. Those people lost not only their homes and belongings, but also their work tools and workshops. In the meantime, vigorous germanization of Kraków was taking place.

Metal industrial construction, the part of the set design for “Schindler’s List”, 2008, Photo: Gosia

From August 15, 1941, the only official name of Kraków was its German form – Krakau. Moreover, the names of the majority of the Kraków streets and squares were translated into German. In September 1941, the Polish eagle was removed from the city’s coat of arms and the more important statues were destroyed (Grunwald’s, Kościuszko’s and Mickiewicz’s). During the German occupation, Kraków became a city of terror and cruelty.