March 5 – June 5
The exhibition at the International Cultural Centre Gallery addresses one of the most tragic but largely unexplored chapters in the history of the city. By the decision of Adolf Hitler, the spiritual capital of the Polish nation was designated as the capital of the General Government and recast as an ancient German city. As the easternmost bridgehead of the imagined geography of the Thousand-Year Reich, much like Berlin, Munich or Nuremberg, Krakow was to receive a new urban design. For many post-war decades, this story remained untold; during the communist era it was a topic ignored by researchers and forbidden by censorship.
Significantly, architecture was also used as a tool of the policy designed to deprive Krakow of its Polishness, involving the use of bloody terror, the destruction of Polish elites as well as cultural and scientific institutions, and the looting of works of art. Monuments and Polish na tional symbols were removed from public space, while the names of squares and streets were changed to German ones.
The exhibition is an attempt to look at the experiment that Krakow was subjected to, which had no precedent in the complicated history of Central Europe. – We need to remember that during the 1961 days of its functioning as a forced capital city Krakow was subjected to brutal terror, and its venerable walls were the victims of an unparalleled attempt at disinheritance. Today, several existing buildings from that era represent a wide range of conflicts of memory and oblivion. Krakow – although fortunately retaining its physiognomy – is also an exceptionally strong example of a victim of ideology, which, however, defended its identity – explains Professor Jacek Purchla, the author and one of the curators of the exhibition.
The International Cultural Centre has been interested in the problem of difficult heritage, in cluding the legacy of the Third Reich, for several decades. Starting with a 1994 book, The Art of the Third Reich, by Piotr Krakowski, published together with the IRSA Press, the ICC continued its pioneering research for the following twenty-five years, which culminated in an international conference and publication of the book Dissonant Heritage? The architecture of the Third Reich in Poland (2020). The aim of the exhibition at the ICC Gallery is not only to present an inventory of German vi sions of Krakow as the Nuremberg of the East – visions that remained primarily on paper. Its intention is to encourage reflection on the contemporary attitude to the difficult heritage of the Third Reich, which has become an integral albeit largely invisible part of the city’s cultural landscape. – We want to look at the transformations and changes that Krakow underwent in the period when it functioned as a forced capital of an occupied territory, as well as the con sequences of these events that are still experienced today, often unconsciously – says Agata Wąsowska-Pawlik, director of the ICC.
The conceptual axis of the exhibition consists of urban and infrastructural plans, including the most important architectural designs and their implementations, which were supposed to com pletely transform Krakow into a model German city. One of the actions taken by the Nazis was the administrative extension of Krakow’s borders. Due to the war needs, the communication system was rebuilt and modernised. Investments were made in the expansion of railways and roads, and in the city itself, the streets were paved. To adapt Krakow to the role of the capital of the General Government, plans were made for a German government district in Dębniki, with its spectacular design drafted in 1941 by Hubert Ritter. There were also plans for a German administrative district in Błonia Park, which would require the demolition of the Kościuszko Mound. Large capital investments were allocated to new housing developments in the west ern part of the city, where a German residential district was established. A new housing estate was built in Królewska Street for the families of members of the military and officials. Several changes in the urban fabric were introduced to organise and modernise public transport in the city. Significant changes affected the historic centre, especially the Wawel Royal Castle and its surroundings.
The complete appropriation of city space by the Nazis was related to aspects other than a new urban design as well. Notably, architecture also played an important role in the execution of the Shoah. To this day, Krakow remains the only city in the world where the Nazis located a concentration camp – KL Plaszow. Deliberately situated on the site of two Jewish cemeteries, it was only several kilometres away from the centre modernised by the occupation authorities, where elegant hotels, restaurants, casinos, recreational and sports areas were created for the German community to make them feel “at home.”
The structure of the exhibition is based on two layers: the primary one, which consists of the archival, historical, and iconographic documentation related to the leading themes, and the complementary one – in special drawers, an inquisitive viewer will find materials that broaden the context of the narrative. The exhibition is enclosed in the total blackness of the gallery space, while the designs, models, and plans are only illuminated with backlights. This cold and minimalist arrangement introduces a sense of detachment from an emotional evaluation of this extremely difficult topic.
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive, over 350-page catalogue, which is the first comprehensive study of the dissonant heritage of the Third Reich in Krakow. The collected material is the result of many years of archival and field research conducted in Krakow, as well as in the archives and collections of Berlin, Munich, Warsaw, Vienna, and Wrocław, by the ICC research team under the supervision of Professor Jacek Purchla and by experts from other Krakow institutions. Equally noteworthy are the opening essays that explain the phenomenon of unwanted capital, discuss the activities of the Nazis in the city space, and address the everyday life in occupied Krakow.
The exhibition was organised in cooperation with the National Archives in Krakow, which provided most of exhibited documents, as well as with the National Digital Archives, the KL Plaszow Memorial Museum and Duke University (USA). The exhibits on display come from the collections of the Wawel Royal Castle, the National Museum in Krakow, the Krakow Museum, the Museum of Architecture in Wrocław and the Architekturzentrum Wien, Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität München and the Bundesarchiv.
Completion of the arcades created for a tenement near St Giles’ Church, July 1942, photographer unknown, National Digital Archives
Plan of development along Błonia (the city common),
March 1942, Georg Stahl, paper, pencil, coloured pencil, tracing paper, National Archives in Krakow
Reconstruction of the ‘Feniks’ building, July 1942, photo: Ewald Theuergarten, National Digital Archives
Street signs on a tenement in Sławkowska Street, one of which has the German inscription ‘Haupt Strasse’, November 1939, photographer unknown, National Digital Archives
Remodelling of Wawel. Western wing, external (eastern) elevation, 1943, Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, Museum of Architecture in Wrocław