Visible | Invisible: a Successional Landscape Approach Towards Holocaust and Jewish Cemeteries Memorial
Dong Zhang, International ASLA
Faculty Advisor: Kenny Fraser
University of Edinburgh
"This design is a remarkable and sensitively conceived plan for developing a memorial landscape in Krakow, Poland, on the site of the Plaszow Concentration Camp, which was built in 1944 atop two Jewish cemeteries that were obliterated to make way for the camp. It artfully confronts the challenge of reconciling a landscape bearing the weight of history and traumatic memory and its current informal use as a place of recreation. Rather than employ a solution based on traditional forms of memorial design, this plan suggests interventions in the landscape that employ hierarchies of plantings to denote and honor its former functions, the use of gravel to indicate the edges of lost structures, and Corten steel columns to mark the site of a funeral parlor associated with the destroyed cemeteries. The design conceives a living landscape that at once honors the dead, promotes respectful uses of the park, and ensures that layers of memory are never forgotten."
- 2019 Awards Jury
In the southern suburb of Krakow, Poland there sits the former Plaszow Concentration Camp, arguably the most important Holocaust site in Poland as portrayed by director Steven Spielberg in his 1993 movie Schindler's List. Being a nature reserve for basically the past seven decades, the Plaszow area is now beginning to emerge alternative voices –– at least some have wished to use the site as a de-facto city park. Therefore, memory and/or forgetting is the pressing issue of the site right now.
Instead of traditional architecture- or monument-based approach, this thesis proposes a successional landscape design strategy to address the dilemma of memory and/or forgetting in the site, and tests such an anti-monument strategy in the most challenging area of the site, two pre-war Jewish cemeteries. With plants and gravels as dominating design elements, this thesis aims to subtly transform the pre-war Jewish cemetery area into a naturally evolved place that will be enjoyed by people from all walks of life while the Holocaust lessons would never be forgotten.
Situated on the Vistula River, the longest and largest river in Poland, Krakow is one of the oldest cities and the second largest in Poland. The city dates back to the 7th century, was the official capital of Poland until 1956, and is the capital of the Lesser Poland Province in southern Poland. Being the traditional academic, economic, cultural and artistic center of Poland, Krakow's Old Town was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
Before the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in September 1939, Krakow had almost one-quarter of its total population being Jews and was an important cultural center for the Polish Jews, as well as an influential center of Jewish spiritual life. There are two pre-war Jewish cemeteries in the southern suburb of Krakow called Plaszow, upon which the infamous Plaszow Concentration Camp was built soon after the German invasion of Poland.
Scope and Size
Using memory and forgetting as the key study frame of reference and the former Plaszow Concentration Camp as the backdrop, the focus of this thesis is on landscape and memory –– memorialization and designing for landscapes of trauma. In terms of memory, Plaszow is the most important Holocaust site in Poland that is still to be appropriately memorialized. In terms of forgetting together, however, many others wish to forget (or don't even care to remember) and use the site instead as a de-facto city park. Therefore, the key question of this thesis is, 'is it possible to come up with a solution of appropriate memorialization while considering the local community?'
The size of the Plaszow Concentration Camp is 32 hectares in area. Strategies and a masterplan for the camp are first developed. Further design interventions and detailed plans then focus on the two pre-war Jewish cemeteries.
Site and Context Investigation
In the southern part of the Vistula River in the Podgorze district, nestled away from the busy tourist destination of Krakow's Old Town sits the unmarked and untended green space including multiple typologies of landscape of Plaszow. Covering about 100 hectares and surrounded by an impenetrable road and railway system, this extensive area owning a mosaic of land-uses which include a disused limestone quarry, a medieval burial mound; the remaining gravestones of the former old Jewish cemetery, the ruins of a pre-war funeral parlor of the new Jewish cemetery, an empty valley with woodland maturing on the south slope and scrubland encroaching on the north side. In 1942 the construction of the Plaszow forced labor camp, later developed into the Plaszow Concentration Camp, began on the site of two active Jewish cemeteries. Upon seizing the land both cemeteries were razed to the ground and gravestones utilized as foundation blocks for camp roads. To date, there is only one known remaining gravestone standing in amongst the ruins of over 400 unidentified grave plot remains within the site.
This site itself is like a palimpsest with layers of memory: The first layer is the old Jewish cemetery established in 1887, the second layer is the new Jewish cemetery with the funeral parlor opened in 1932, following with the third layer which is the Plaszow Concentration Camp built up in 1944.
The evolution of landscape itself is like a vivid dynamic story. After the WWII, the Plaszow Concentration Camp was dismantled. As the natural evolution process of the landscape from past to the present, grass, shrubs, trees gradually become dominant in the landscape thus the traces of history gradually varied from visible to invisible. Nowadays, the site have been heavily covered by vegetation and everyday lives, where only feelings of silence and emptiness remain in the surroundings. Because Plaszow is less than 5kms from the Stare Miasto, Krakow's main city square and focus of its World Heritage Site, now that the city has developed in close proximity to the site the native residents with fewer historical knowledges use the pre-war Jewish cemeteries' ground regularly as an informal entertainment ground: playing ball games, pushing strollers, walking dogs, cycling and even having barbecue and picnic. These behaviors are considered quite inappropriate in this sacred place.
Another monument, i.e., a statue, building, or other structure erected to commemorate the traumatic history of the site, could be the most straightforward solution. It is exactly what have been done many times around the world, not excluding this site itself, in the name of Holocaust memorial, but it might not be an appropriate approach these days. As demonstrated in a series of events regarding the removal of Confederate monuments across the US in recent years, establishing monuments in public spaces may now be interpreted as symbolizing authorities (usually the state or dictator) themselves or their ideology, and influencing the historical narrative of the place. This project rejects the notion of developing a new monument, which may or may not from an elitist point of view as an emblem of power. Alternatively, it adopts an anti-monument approach to develop the solution.
Scrutinizing other cases of Holocaust memorial, the anti-monument approach deems appropriate for this Holocaust site for the following three reasons:
- The subject is for recognizing a darker event;
- This design generally encourages close interactions with visitors;
- The purpose of Holocaust memorials is mainly to reveal and provoke, not to console.
Specific to the two pre-war Jewish cemeteries, applying the anti- monument approach means:
- Recognize and Reveal the disparate historical layers of the site –– the old Jewish cemetery, the new Jewish cemetery, and the Plaszow Concentration Camp;
- Create a dynamic landscape by vegetation which is undergo continual renewal;
- Design a landscape that could provide rich spatial experience and interaction rather than sitting behind the fence;
- Make connection to the past and engage people to take the responsibility of holding the painful past directly in mind.
The main design objectives are as follows:
- Communicate the context of the desecration that the Plaszow Concentration Camp built on the site of two active Jewish cemeteries;
- Suggest appropriate behavior in the extent of two pre-war Jewish cemeteries;
- Create contrast via different senses of place and landscape experiences between the old and new cemeteries while keep some common points for their same essence.
- Ultimately, bestow a respect on grave sites, thus remembering all buried or killed at Plaszow.
Materials and Installation Methods
To realize the aforementioned intents via landscape design, there are the following five key proposals:
- Capture different moments of the landscape evolution by proposing hierarchical planting of vegetation;
- Create contrast between the old and new cemeteries by differentiating planting direction, pattern, and style;
- Deploy weathering steel columns to mark the location and height of the pre-war funeral parlor as the landmark of the two Jewish cemeteries;
- Mark the important living barracks of the Plaszow Concentration Camp by invisible dynamic edge of the vegetation and visible edge of black gravel at two different locations;
- Plant columnar beech species to delineate the edges of two Jewish cemeteries.
This thesis proposes an intentionally subdued memorial landscape that metamorphoses between visible and invisible spatially and temporally. By transforming vegetation from grass to shrubs to trees, the design accentuates the existing key features of the site from less visible to more visible, while also let the historical traces naturally evolved from visible to invisible as time passes by. Such a designed variation of conspicuousness validly reflects not only the wide spectrum of people's needs and opinions between memory and forgetting, but also the diachronic nature of memory and forgetting.
- 1.Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’ - Dogwood
- 2.Cornus sanguinea L. - Dogwood
- 1.Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’’- Beech
- 2.Fagus sylvatica L. - Beech