More than 70 years ago, it was a house of terror and blood. A sadistic commander ruled within its walls, torturing and killing countless victims on its sprawling grounds. Now, the building’s new owner wants to turn it into a luxurious home – but people are less than happy about his plans.
In 2015 a Polish property developer named Artur Niemyski bought a house on the outskirts of Kraków, Poland. The previous owner had been struggling to sell the spacious villa, but Niemyski obviously saw its potential.
With a basement, a ground floor and an attic, the villa offers plenty of space. Niemyski hopes to restore it to its original purpose, developing it into a luxurious family home. However, many people have come out in strong opposition to the idea. And after hearing of the building’s history, it’s understandable why they’ve done so.
Indeed, although the house may have started out as a comfortable home for a wealthy family, its story would eventually take a darker turn. Hauntingly, in 1943, it became the home of one of the Nazi party’s most infamous commandants.
Amon Göth was born in Vienna, Austria, on December 11, 1908. As a young man, he was a staunch supporter of the Nazi party and rose quickly through its ranks. Then, on February 11, 1943, he was given a horrifying task.
And Göth’s assignation came at a time of great turmoil for many in Nazi-occupied Poland. After Germany had invaded the country in 1939, Polish Jews had been forced from their homes. And in Kraków, a city once home to as many as 80,000 Jews, synagogues were ransacked. The remaining Jewish population were forced to live in a cramped ghetto just 30 streets wide.
In 1943, however, the ghetto was evacuated and thousands of Polish Jews were slaughtered in the streets. Thousands more were packed off to extermination camps, where they would meet with a similarly grisly fate.
A large number of the surviving Jews were sent to a new concentration camp on the outskirts of the city, called Kraków-Płaszów. Göth, meanwhile, was put in charge of the camp and its 2,000-odd inmates. And, tragically, Kraków-Płaszów’s population would only increase; by 1944 there were 25,000 Jews imprisoned there.
Furthermore, over the years Göth committed a series of unthinkable atrocities at the camp – gruesome even by Nazi standards. From his home in the grand villa on the outskirts of the camp, he carried out a reign of terror that would still horrify his victims more than seven decades later.
And because Kraków-Płaszów was designated as a labor camp at first, it wasn’t as closely supervised as the Nazis’ other concentration camps. Unfortunately, however, this gave the sadistic Göth ample opportunity to torture his inmates as he pleased.
So much so, in fact, that Kraków-Płaszów’s camp commandant would start off most days shooting someone before breakfast. And the captives who worked in Göth’s villa were so afraid of him that they would hide whenever he appeared – even in the restroom if necessary.
A terrifying presence, he stalked his villa and the camp with his two killer dogs, Rolf and Ralf, at his side. The monstrous pair were trained to savage humans upon Göth’s command. “He would give this order to the dog,” camp survivor Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig told the Daily Mail in February 2017, “and it would tear people apart.”
Jonas-Rosenzweig was one of Göth’s Jewish maids, who was forced to witness his many horrific deeds in the home. Once, she watched on helpless as Göth shot dead a Jewish boy for exiting a room without asking first.
On another occasion, Jonas-Rosenzweig spotted Göth watching inmates working outside his window, while holding a machine gun. Terrifyingly, he threatened to shoot them if they did not work harder. The event inspired a scene in the 1993 movie Schindler’s List.
And, according to witnesses, another of Göth’s outbursts came when a Jewish cook served him soup that the commandant considered too hot. Brutally, he shot the cook dead. And that wasn’t all – another maid, Helen Horowitz, told how he once stabbed her in the leg for setting the table wrong.
However, it wasn’t just his staff who faced grueling punishments for their mistakes. Apparently, if an inmate escaped or misbehaved, the whole group of workers would suffer the deadly consequences – with Göth often fatally shooting random inmates as a punishment. According to Thomas Keneally, who wrote the book on which Schindler’s List was based, one witness has said, “When you saw Göth, you saw death.”
Fortunately, in 1944 Göth’s behavior finally came to light. He was due to appear in court before an SS judge, but charges against him were dropped when it became obvious that Germany was going to lose the war. However, a year later, on September 13, 1946, he met his fate and was executed in Kraków, just five miles away from the camp.
Now, 70 years later, Göth’s house of horrors is being turned into a luxury home. In fact, new owner Niemyski believes that the villa’s past should not prevent it from becoming a comfortable residence for his family. And the cellar where Jonas-Rosenzweig and Horowitz were once held prisoner is set to become a workshop or a wine store.
Niemyski’s plans, however, have frustrated the organizers of Holocaust remembrance tours, who often visit the site. There have been criticisms that the developer wants to whitewash the villa’s past and erase all memory of what happened there.
Instead, locals would like to see the site preserved as a museum – despite the fact that previous attempts to do so have failed. So will a well-to-do Polish family end up sipping wine in the very rooms where the monstrous Göth slaughtered his innocent victims? Only time will tell.