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Unwanted capital. Architecture and urban planning in Krakow during the German occupation of 1939–194

The exhibition was available from 5 March until 12 June 2022 at the ICC Gallery, Rynek Głowny 25, Krakow.

When, by Adolf Hitler's decision, Krakow was designated the capital of the General Government and recognised as an ancient German city, it became the site of a unique experiment involving reconstruction and symbolic appropriation of space. This is one of the tragic and little-researched chapters in the history of the city. For many years, this story remained untold – in the times of the Polish People's Republic, the subject was ignored by researchers and banned by censorship.


 The International Cultural Centre has been interested in the problem of difficult heritage, including the legacy of the Third Reich, for several decades. Pioneering research was initiated in 1994 by the publication of Piotr Krakowski's book "The Art of the Third Reich". Later, we organised an international conference, "The Dissonant Heritage of the Third Reich in Poland" (2018), and published a book on the topic: "Dissonant Heritage? The architecture of the Third Reich in Poland” (2020). Our next step is an exhibition, which will be on display at the ICC Gallery from March 5 to June 5, 2022. The aim of the exhibition is not only to present attempts to rebuild Krakow during World War II to make it the Nuremberg of the East, but above all to encourage reflection on contemporary attitude to difficult heritage.


 The exhibition showcases urban and infrastructural plans, including the most important architectural designs and their implementations, which were to change the pre-war Polish city into a model Stadt Krakau. Krakow was to become the easternmost bridgehead of the Thousand-Year Reich and, as the capital of the General Government, it was to receive a new urban design. Architecture was also used as a tool of brutal and bloody policies aimed at the city and its inhabitants. Polish elites, cultural and scientific institutions were crushed, and works of art were plundered. Monuments and Polish national symbols were destroyed, and the names of squares and streets were changed to German ones. The swastikas were omnipresent in the public space, and Nazi propaganda was streaming from the street loudspeakers.


The Nazis expanded the city's area, rebuilt and modernised the communication system, railroads, and streets. The role of the capital of this first eastern colony required creating a place for a new German administration – there were plans for a government district in Dębniki or an administrative district in Błonia, which would require the demolition of the Kościuszko Mound. A German residential district was established in the western part of the city, and a new housing estate was built in Królewska Street for the families of members of the military and officials. Major changes also affected the Wawel Royal Castle and the historic centre of Krakow, where elegant hotels, restaurants, casinos, recreational and sports areas were created for the German inhabitants, primarily for the great number of officials in uniform.


Architecture played an important role in the execution of the Shoah as well. Krakow is the only city in the world where the Nazis set up a concentration camp – KL Plaszow. It was deliberately located on the site of two Jewish cemeteries, just several kilometres from the centre modernised by the occupation authorities.


The exhibition is accompanied by a large catalogue, a compendium of current knowledge about the heritage of the Third Reich in Krakow. The material collected here is the result of archival and field research conducted by the ICC research team under the supervision of prof. Jacek Purchla and experts from other institutions from Krakow, but also from Berlin, Munich, Warsaw, Vienna and Wrocław, among others.


The exhibition was organised in cooperation with the National Archives in Krakow, the National Digital Archives, the KL Plaszow Memorial Museum and Duke University (USA). The exhibits on display come from the collections of the Wawel Royal Castle, the National Museum in Krakow, the Krakow Museum, the Museum of Architecture in Wroclaw and the Architekturzentrum Wien, Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität München and the Bundesarchiv.


Organised by

Programme concept

Agata Wąsowska-Pawlik, Łukasz Galusek

Authors of the exhibition concept and curators

prof. dr hab. Jacek Purchla, dr Żanna Komar, dr Monika Rydiger

Exhibition design

Rafał Bartkowicz


Dorota Kosiec, Anna Śliwa

In collaboration with

Joanna Biegacz, Ewa Czarnecka, Marzena Daszewska, Monika Frenkiel, Magdalena Grabias, Joanna Hojda-Pepaś, Oliwia Kaczmarzewska, Dorota Korohoda, dr Paulina Małochleb, Paulina Orłowska-Bańdo, Łukasz Pieróg, Angelika Radoń, Paulina Roszak-Niemirska, Anna Sawłowicz, Karolina Wójcik

Graphic design of catalogue and printed materials

Krzysztof Radoszek


Funded by



Media partners


Permanent media partners




Works on display were kindly loaned by the following collections and private collections

Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität München
Architekturzentrum Wien
Barbara Zbroja collection
Duke University
International Cultural Centre
Jagiellonian University Archives
Michał Pysz collection
Museum of Architecture in Wrocław
Museum of KL Plaszow
Museum of Krakow
Museum of Photography in Krakow (MuFo)
National Archives at College Park
National Archives in Krakow
National Digital Archives
National Library of Poland
National Museum in Krakow
National Museum in Krakow Archives
Polish Aviation Museum
Railway Centre of Geodetic and Cartographic Documentation
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection

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Debates and lectures

We invite you to expert meetings that will deepen your knowledge about Krakow during World War II, its function as the capital city of the General Government, its troublesome heritage, and similar experiences of other European cities.
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Guided tours of the exhibition

Broaden your horizons and learn about contexts by joining us for a guided tour of the exhibition.
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Walks in Krakow

We would like to invite you to a series of walks around places in Krakow that were significant for the history of this city during the German occupation. The guides will address questions concerning the planned locations of new districts and neighbourhoods, how the Wawel Castle and its surroundings were rebuilt, and finally how the city’s architecture was used in the execution of the Holocaust.
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Publications related to the exhibition "Unwanted Capital. Architecture and Urban Planning of Krakow 1939–45"
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