The route to Umschlagplatz
History of the Place
The route to Umschlagplatz is the path along which Jews were led to the railway platform situated in the area of the former city slaughterhouse in Zimna Street. Groups of Lublin Jews were taken along Ruska, Kalinowszczyzna and Turystyczna Streets, not knowing where they were headed. In fact, they became the first victims of mass genocide, murdered in the gas chambers of the Bełżec death camp. Before being taken to the platform, the victims were gathered in the Maharshal synagogue, situated at the foot of the Castle hill.
The building of the biggest synagogue in pre-war Lublin lost its sacral function during the German occupation and served as a gathering point for the Jews selected for deportation to the death camp in Bełżec. Next to the synagogue, is situated the oldest printing house in Lublin (having been in use for several hundred years). The most important work of Jewish mysticism – The Book of Zohar, was published there in 1623. The printed word was of great significance to the Jewish people – they were called the “Nation of the Book”. The synagogue was destroyed during the war, after the liquidation of the ghetto, as one of the last material traces of Jewish culture in Lublin.
Determining the marching route of the Jewish inhabitants
Jews destined for deportation were led to the premises of the city slaughterhouse on foot – escorted from the Maharshal synagogue in the Jewish ghetto by officers of the German Order Service. Even though the action was carried out at night, the perpetraitors failed to keep it secret. There are accounts given by both the Jewish citizens who managed to survive in the ghetto, as well as the Polish citizens who followed the events by watching from the windows of their houses. Witnesses recall wardens shooting those who lagged behind, tried to escape or slowed down the march. Immediate, random executions on the premises of the slaughterhouse are also documented.
As part of the “Lublin. Memory of the Holocaust” project, the memories of one of the oldest interviewed participants of the Oral History Programme, Wiesława Majczak, were recorded. The memories she shared regard various aspects of the situation the Jewish inhabitants of Lublin had to face during the period of the German occupation of the city. Her account as a historical witness to the Holocaust of Lublin Jews is most valuable since it covers detailed descriptions of the persecution of the Jewish citizens of Lublin.
Her accounts enabled researchers to determine the exact marching route of the Jewish inhabitants along which they were led from the area of the ghetto in Podzamcze (the Maharshal synagogue), through Mostowa Street (next to the Eastern Orthodox Church), Kalinowszczyzna, pre-war Łęczyńska Street (present-day Turystyczna) to the Umschlagplatz in Zimna Street.
A fragment of Wiesława Majczak's account was used as a quotation placed on the chosen concrete slabs marking the route to the Lublin Umschlagplatz. It is also used in the design of the typographic poster prepared for the needs of the project by the Chamber of Printing of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre.
The last route along which the Jewish inhabitants of Lublin were led before they were taken to the Bełżec death camp is marked with 21 concrete slabs bearing inscriptions and metal bands in which the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are cut. The letters are not placed in alphabetical order but at random, as if they were accidently scattered from a full letter case around the city. The symbolism refers to the destruction of the foundations of Jewish culture – the printed word, and signifies the end of the pre-war Jewish community life in Lublin.
The number of the concrete slabs located along the Jewish route to the railway platform is linked with the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The last (22nd letter) is punctured in the roof of the container which is a crucial element of the “Mis/Remembrance of the Place” art installation situated in the area of the Umschlagplatz Memorial Site.
Graphically, the shape of the letters used in the project corresponds to the typeface used for the preparation of The Book of Zohar, published in the printing house operating right next to the Maharshal synagogue which served as the gathering point for the victims of the deportation.
Along the 4,5 km section of the Memory Trail, uniform 1m x 1m concrete slabs are placed bearing two kinds of inscription:
Memory Trail marking the route along which the Jews from the ghetto in Podzamcze were led to a railway siding on the premises of a slaughterhouse. From March 17 to April 14, 1942, the German occupying forces sent approx. 28,000 men, women and children to the death camp in Bełżec from the platform situated there.
I saw the route of the Jewish people, walking to the platform at the slaughterhouse. The crowd kind of streamed by. It wasn't that they just walked past – they walked, walked and walked. There was this clatter – that's how I remember the sound. The clatter of shoes on the cobblestone. And talking, and then also the shooting. I watched it all from the second floor, so it seemed to me I could see heads and bundles only. It was as if the cobbled stones went by, the heads round and the bundles round. It was as if the street walked by, the cobblestone itself.
Wiesława Majczak – the Account of a Historical Witness