The Płaszów camp, originally intended as a forced labour camp and then turned into a concentration camp, was established on the grounds of two former Jewish cemeteries in 1942. The death rate was very high. Many prisoners, including children and women, died of typhus, starvation and executions. The Płaszów camp became particularly infamous for both individual and mass shootings carried out there.
The area which held the camp now consists of sparsely wooded hills and fields with one large memorial to all the victims and two smaller monuments (1 to the Jewish victims specifically, and another to the Hungarian Jewish victims) at one perimeter of where the camp once stood. An additional small monument located near the opposite end of the site stands in memory of the first execution of Polish (non-Jewish) prisoners in 1939.
The first deportations of Jews from the Krakow Ghetto began in October, 1942. In 1943, after the liquidation of the ghetto the camp was expanded and turned into one of the many Nazi concentration camps.
At the beginning the camp was a slave labour camp (Arbeitslager), supplying manpower to several armament factories and a stone quarry. During July and August 1944 a number of transports of prisoners left KL Plaszow, as it was officially known, for Auschwitz, Stutthof, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen and other camps. In January 1945, the last of the remaining inmates and camp staff left the camp on a death march to Auschwitz, including several female SS guards. Many of those who survived the march were killed upon arrival. When the Nazis realised that the Soviets were already approaching Krakow, they completely dismantled the camp, leaving an empty field in its place. The bodies that were buried there earlier in various mass graves were all exhumed and burnt on site. On January 20, 1945 the Red Army had reached only a tract of barren land.
The Commandant of the Płaszów camp, an SS captain Amon Göth from Vienna, was known for being uncommonly sadistic. According to witnesses, he would never start his breakfast without shooting at least one person. He is known for having insisted that Jews should pay for their own executions and paving the road to his courtyard with Jewish tombstones.
On March 13, 1943, Göth personally oversaw the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto nearby, forcing its Jewish inhabitants deemed capable of work into the KL Plaszow camp. Those who were declared unfit for work were either sent to Auschwitz or shot on the spot. Under him were his staff of Ukrainian SS personnel, followed by 600 Germans of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (1943–1944), and a few SS women, including Alice Orlowski, a picture-perfect SS-woman, who was known for her whippings, especially of young women across their eyes.
As previously mentioned, the Płaszów camp gained particular infamy for individual and mass shootings. Next to Hujowa Górka, a large hill close to the camp commonly used for executions, some 8,000 deaths took place outside the camp’s fences, with prisoners trucked in 3 to 4 times per week.
Covered lorries from Krakow used to arrive in the morning. The condemned were walked into a trench of the Hujowa Górka hillside and shot, bodies then covered with dirt, layer upon layer. In early 1944 all corpses were exhumed and burnt in a heap to hide the evidence. Witnesses later attested that 17 truckloads of human ashes were removed from the burning site, and scattered over the area.