Thursday, April 9, 2015

Oscar Schindler factory now a museum

No visit to Cracow would be complete without a visit to Oscar Schindler's enamel factory, our destination today. The famous factory has been turned into a modern museum devoted to the wartime experiences in Krakow under the five year Nazi occupation during World War II. The museum at 4 Lipowa Street lies in the middle of an industrial district.

The story popularized by the film Schindler's List becomes the framework for narrating the story of Krakow under the German occupation. All that remain of the original factory are the entrance gate, the original lobby's arrangement, various bits of machinery, and Oscar Schindler's original office with a plaster map of Europe with German geographical names.

Roughly a sixth of the museum’s permanent exhibition is dedicated to Oskar Schindler, his factory, and the fate of its Jewish workforce. The rest shows the anxiety in prewar Krakow, the German invasion in 1939, Krakow as the capital of Poland under the Nazi occupation, the sorrows of everyday living in the occupied city, family life, the wartime history of Krakow's Jews and how they were gradually eliminated from the life of the city,the resistance movement,  the underground Polish state, and lastly the Soviet capture of the city.

The museum was laid out starting with life in Cracow in the prewar years. Through the use of  original photos and film of family and street life as well as sound and light effects we experienced the life of the city. We listened to the sounds, walked down cobbled streets, commuted in an historic tram, peeped into a period apartment, visited a photographer's shop, cafe and hair salon. It gave the city an element of realism. The video recordings in which Krakow's residents recount their personal life stories  and the multimedia presentation left you in no doubt as to the terror of life at that time. It showed how the Jews were moved first to a ghetto and then to the even worse Plaszow Concentration Camp.

One the most moving displays was a room with piles of the enamel bowls and pots made at the factory, encased in plastic. You could walk inside to see the names of all of Schindler's factory workers.

In late 1944, in the face of the Soviet Red Army's advances Schindler convinced the German authorities to let him locate his munitions business and its workforce to a branch of Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp in Bohemia’s Brunnlitz. About 1,200 Jewish prisoners from Krakow survived there to be liberated by the Soviets on May 8, 1945.







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