The First ‘Urban Jewish Heritage’ Conference

In the beginning of September FestivALT representatives talked about the complexities of memory and Jewish heritage in Krakow at the first Urban Jewish Heritage conference organized by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland – FODŻ and the Ironbridge International institute.

The potential of heritage projects for community capacity building – complexities, challenges and opportunities by Lena Rubenfeld and Debra Karen Brunner


The burgeoning interest in Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is generally taken as a net positive development in a threefold process of return, reclamation and renewal. In recent years, many localities have invested time, money, political and cultural capital in their Jewish heritage, resulting in the reappearance and comparative normalization of Jewish life in otherwise non-Jewish places. This presentation will consider how local and international interest in Jewish heritage impacts local Jewish communities specifically. In some places, the wider exploration of heritage, where it has been possible without intervention, is contributing to sustainable community growth and community empowerment, while in others it has occurred beside Jewish communities, making little impact on them. In still others, interest in Jewish heritage has been caught up in larger socio-cultural forces, specifically touristification and gentrification, with very damaging impacts on local Jewish communities.
This presentation will explore two case studies showing the divergent impacts of the heritage industry on local Jewish communities. On one hand, it will consider positive examples from Belarus, the Polosk Jewish Cultural Educational Foundation and the Great Synagogue in Slonim. On the other hand, it will consider the situation in Kraków, specifically the controversy over the conversion of the former Chevra Tehilim Beit Midrash to an upscale bar and restaurant. Through these case studies, the presentation will articulate how the use and misuse of heritage sites impact the consciousness of local Jewish communities, sometimes hardening and sometimes breaking stereotypes and misconceptions with which all members of the community must contend.
The paper will highlight the need for models of governance and control over heritage sites and a need for transparency, responsibility and the creation of planning boards operating on inclusive, democratic practices.

A Study in Ambivalent Heritage: The Former Płaszów Camp in Kraków by James Francisco


About four kilometers south of Kraków’s main square is the open space known as Płaszów, site of a an important German forced labor, transit and concentration camp during the Second World War. An estimated 150,000 people passed through Płaszów between 1942 and 1945, mostly Jews from Kraków and Małopolska, as well as from Slovakia and Hungary. Slave laborers at Płaszów, as many as 30,000 in 1943-1944, worked in all manner of occupations, while tens of thousands of others were “processed” at Płaszów en route to Auschwitz. Approximately 10,000 died in the camp itself–––by disease and starvation, exhaustion, sadistic beating, and firing squads.
Though Płaszów is internationally known as the setting for Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, it remains a deeply ambivalent space in the contemporary city of Kraków. Unlike other former Nazi camps in Poland, Płaszów today is not under the oversight of a museum or cultural institution. It is publicly signed as a site of genocide, but mostly used for recreation, especially in the warm months, where it is a popular place to sunbathe, picnic and drink. As a site of memory (a lieu-de-mémoire, in Pierre Nora’s influential term), it is just as much a site of disregard, a nonsite of memory, where the traumatic past is not entirely forgotten, rather strangely adrift, neither embraced nor disavowed. This paper will address the specific history of Płaszów as a site of ambivalent Jewish heritage, exploring the contributing factors to its current status, and providing a theoretical structure for understanding that status within the wider geography of the Holocaust.
The paper will consider recent developments at the site – the slow movement toward museological intervention – and will be generously illustrated with photographs I have made there over the last decade.