Friday, March 14, 2008

March 14

The liquidation of the Podgorze Ghetto in Krakow was completed on this date in 1943, marking the conclusion of a three-year project to render the Polish city the “cleanest” in the land. This racial cleansing was conceived by Hans Frank, who was appointed generalgouvenour after the German invasion of September 1939. Jews had been living in Krakow since the middle of the 13th century, when they were invited there by King Boleslav, who granted them unprecedented religious freedoms and guarantees of personal safety; during the following century, as European nations expelled their Jewish populations, many fled to Poland. By mid-March 1943, Nazi Germany had obliterated that 600-year history.

A deportation order issued in May 1940 dispersed tens of thousands of Jews into the suburbs, small towns and countryside; more were expelled later that fall, with the remaining numbers relocated from the historic Jewish quarter to a dilapidated, overcrowded ghetto in the district of Podgorze. In June and October 1942, the new ghetto was thinned as thousands were shipped to the nearby Belzec death camp, where nearly 450,000 Jews would eventually perish. During the second deportation, all the children from the orphanage were taken to the outskirts of town and shot along with their teachers and curators.

On 13 March 1943, Podgorze was sealed off and the last 6000 Jews were evacuated or shot. The “workers” from Ghetto A -- mostly men -- were transferred to Plaszow, a labor camp were workers were forced to exhume, cremate, and scatter the remains of previous victims from mass graves. The women, children and elderly of “Ghetto B” were cleared out on March 14 and embarked for Berkenau, where 1500 were immediately put to death in Krema II, the gas chamber that became operational that very day. After Podgorze was “cleansed,” Jewish prisoners were trucked in to collect the property left behind.

Among the survivors from Krakow was Roman Polanski, the film director whose wife Sharon Tate would eventually be murdered by the Manson family.

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