“Palimpsest means a parchment that has been partly erased and re-inscribed. It evokes the marks made by human settlement on the land, the passage of time, presence and absence and the web of inter-dependence uniting the natural and the cultural, the material and the immaterial.”
Limestone. All kinds of buildings and other constructions have been built using jurassic limestone from local sources for a thousand years. Many quarries were erected in the early Middle Ages in hills that comprised tectonic horsts. A dozen of these quarries were still in use in the 19th and 20th centuries. Nowadays they represent important objects of both geological and cultural heritage. The quarries from the Lesser Poland region are the most well known examples of the post-exploited geological landscape in Poland, where most of building and road stones as well as raw materials for the chalk, cement and chemical industries were excavated.
Liban Quarry. The Liban Quarry is located in Kraków-Podgórze district near the railway station Kraków-Płaszów. The exploitation of limestone was carried out here since the 14th century. The limestone company ‘Liban and Ehrenpreis’, founded by Bernard Liban and run by the Liban and Ehrenpreis Jewish industrial families from Podgórze, established the quarry here in 1873. By the end of the 19th century a complex of buildings was established within the quarry as well as a railway line was laid. The ‘Liban and Ehrenpreis’ enterprise was the most important company in the construction materials industry in Kraków at that time.
Forced-labor. During the World War II and the time of Kraków’s German Nazi occupation, Liban Quarry was set-up as a forced-labor camp. The Nazis employed here approx. 800 people working 14 hours a day without holidays and Sundays. The prisoners of Konzentrationslager Plaszow – a Nazi German concentration camp, were kept here from 1942 to 1944 performing forced labour. On average, there were 400 prisoners in the camp. Throughout the period of its operation over approx. 2,000 Poles and Ukrainians were working in very difficult conditions in the quarries and lime kilns. During the liquidation of the forced-labor camp in July 1944, 146 of 170 prisoners escaped. Others were executed on the spot. They were buried at the place of execution.
Konzentrationslager Plaszow. The Konzentrationslager Plaszow was built by the SS in Płaszów, not far away from the Liban Quarry, between the Kamieńskiego and Wielicka Streets, partly on the site of Jewish graveyards. Originally intended as a forced-labour camp KL PLaszow had been populated with prisoners during the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto on 13–14 March 1943. Thereafter, the camp was expanded and turned into one of many Nazi German concentration camps. The real Jewish tombstones were used to pave the road into the concentration camp so that inmates were compelled to trample over the relics of their ancestors on their way to and from work.
“Schindler’s List”. In 1993, Allan Starski created in Liban Quarry the scenography for Steven Spielberg’s famous “Schindler’s List”, depicting the Konzentrationslager Plaszow. For $ 600,000 at the bottom of the quarry they built 34 huts and 11 watchtowers. Part of the decoration still remains in the quarry, e.g. fragments of fences, wooden poles with the remnants of barbed wire or a part of the path laid with imitation of Jewish tombstones. These traces remain confusingly mixed with the genuine historical artifacts from the WWII.
Mainstay of nature. After the WWII the ‘Liban and Ehrenpreis’ company was nationalized and employed to 110 employees. In 1986, the deposit was considered to be exploited. At the end of its exploitation the Liban Quarry has become an important mainstay of nature in the city center. The bottom of the quarry is covered with water, it has a dense vegetation and is a residence for many species of birds. There is also a very large population of dragonflies and butterflies. The impressive limestone cliffs, ponds, prolific fauna and flora absorb the historical heritage of this place. When one climbs up the Krakus Mound and looks down from the lip of the Liban Quarry, one can see the power of life rather than death.
Natural-cultural palimpsest. A lot of Kraków’s citizens are coming here for a walk, to do some sport and to entertain, rather then admire and explore the cultural heritage, like the tourists do. But is there something wrong in such behavior, besides leaving behind garbage? Personally I have a mixed feelings and different thoughts while visiting places like this: former cemeteries, sanctuaries, settlements, places of forced labour, mass massacres, mass graves, which have been absorbed by the dynamically changing landscape. Their function and meaning are constantly changing in time and are re-defined by successive generations. A natural-cultural palimpsest of memories, indeed…