The rear of the villa in 2013 .
(photo credit:JASON REDMOND/REUTERS)
Over one thousand people have signed a petition launched last week to stop the conversion of an infamous Nazi torture house in Poland from its association with the story told by the movie Schindler’s List into a luxury villa.
A petition on the Change.org website launched by JRoots – a UK-based charity that organizes educational tours to Jewish heritage sites – calls on the city of Krakow to make the building a recognized site of Holocaust memory.
The house in question belonged to SS commander Amon Goeth, known as “The Butcher of Plaszow,” who ran the Plaszow concentration camp, where the villa is located.
When plans were announced on International Holocaust Remembrance Day to advance a longstanding project for a museum on the former concentration camp, JRoots tour guides were perplexed to see that the new plan omitted the Goeth Villa.
The group is petitioning the Krakow City Council to ensure that the villa be recognized as a part of the new Plaszow Museum site, requesting that a plaque be attached to the property and that groups continue to be allowed to visit the site.
“The new owner has overturned a decades-long precedent for visitors to access the villa, and wants to make a torture basement where Jewish women were imprisoned into a wine cellar,” the petition reads.
Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig was one of those Jewish women. As a Holocaust survivor who was forced to work as a maid for Goeth, she is backing the efforts to preserve the memory of the villa’s history, noting that she has been speaking about her experiences for decades.
“I was a prisoner in this house and a victim. I want the world to learn what happened there,” she said, adding that it is up to the next generation to put pressure on the Polish authorities over the matter.
“I am afraid the original house is going to be demolished. Who knows what’s going to happen to it. The house is completely different. Upstairs and downstairs is all different. There will be nothing left,” she continued, opining that converting such historic buildings into museums is the way to educate generations to come.
“They ask me why I think my story in that house is so popular. I think it’s because [Steven] Spielberg had the original survivors who were there help make his movie,” she reflected. We helped him make the story to make a powerful movie, to show the world the truth.”
JRoots has brought thousands of young Britons inside the villa and is fighting to halt the change.
“We allowed them to step into one of the most famous places from the Holocaust,” JRoots founder Rabbi Naftali Schiff remarked.
“They realize the Holocaust isn’t a Hollywood movie, it’s real and you can walk the very house, step into the real place that this important history happened. That’s so important for educating young people as the Holocaust moves further and further away into history,” he said.
“We aimed to inspire young people to light candles there and bring light into a dark place, to sing Jewish songs there that Goeth would have had you killed for singing. We ask young people to make a pledge in that house of cruelty to return to Britain and make society a better place through acts of kindness and social responsibility. Hundreds of young adults have told us that visiting this house is one of the most powerful education and inspiring experiences they’ve had in their lives,” he continued.
“Now, all of this education has been lost. We will protest with all we can to overturn being barred from visiting the Goeth Villa by its private property developer. We deplore his efforts to erase what happened there,” Schiff said.
Property developer Artur Niemyski has insisted that he means no offense to the Jewish community, highlighting that Goeth only occupied the residency for a short time. “My opinion is that this building was occupied for a small period by the Nazis, which should not influence this property forever,” the Daily Mail quoted him as saying.
“Whether intentional or otherwise, the effect is the same – history is being erased before our eyes,” Schiff said, “While the shell of the house still stands, the owner has made it clear to us that he wants the world to forget what happened there. This can be so dangerous when Holocaust denial is so rife. We are protesting and call on the mayor of Krakow [Jacek Majchrowski] to help protect this house and its history.”
JRoots shared with The Jerusalem Post a conversation one of its tour guides had with Niemyski, who told the guide he originally planned to divide the property into apartments, but due to logistical difficulty, decided to use it as a family villa.
“He didn’t want people crowding around the house or visiting and he said he is not giving anyone permission to visit it,” the tour guide said, following his visit to the house three weeks ago.
“When I asked about a plaque and we would pay for it, he said, he didn’t want anything to do with a memorial. He said he is not giving permission to remember what happened there. The owner said it will cause damage to his business, doesn’t matter the consequences.”
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