Fabryki Oskara Schindlera

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Welcome back to my blog. Over the next 3 months I will be adding travel articles that I think will be of general interest.

This entry relates to a permanent exhibition entitled Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945 which is housed in Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory.

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Factory in 2007

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Factory today

My first impression as we neared the factory was “Wow, this has changed”. I visited the factory about 7 years ago. At the time it was almost derelict. There was a dedication to Schindler from the Jews on the front but the place was run down and had little else of interest.

As you approach now it is strikingly different. It has been spruced up, has a range of other attractions nearby and the front is packed with tour golf buggies and taxis. Inside there is a welcoming front desk where you pay a nominal fee, receive an information handout and proceed upstairs to the action.

The walls beside the stairs are decorated with large photos of general scenes from the period. Alongside are small descriptions. At the top of the stairs is a large room dominated by a massive stereoscope with about a dozen or so viewing points. It is not easy to describe but I will try. The stereoscope is round and goes from floor to ceiling. I would guess at 2.5 m diameter. On the side are projections that look a bit like binoculars evenly spaced around it. They are at eye height if you sit on the stools provided. They provide a stereoscopic 3D view of a series of photographs from the war. It took a while to adjust my eyes.

Most of the shots were from the Anschluss with Austria and included several of Hitler and some high ranking Nazis of the time but there were also shots from Krakow and inexplicably a shot that looked like a Thai Watt. Given their age they were remarkably good.

Adjacent to the stereoscope was a movie on the Jewish lifestyle. It was supported by English sub-titles and was informative and entertaining. For reasons I don’t understand, the screen was at a 30 degree angle so took some getting used to. Does this make it art?

The next logical step was into the cinema. It is very comfortable and relatively large so it could easily be a small movie theatre in Canberra. It presented a documentary on Schindler’s factory based on interviews with Jews and Gentiles who worked for Schindler and survived the war. The Poles (as opposed to Jews) had a few privileges above the Jews. They had more freedom of movement and were not required to wear prison uniform. The Jews were housed in a barracks next to the factory and, whilst they were fed, they had no freedom.

The movie was monochrome sepia toned and well suited the subject. It showed some of the fabrication processes although this could be footage from “Schindler’s List”. It was not stated if it was genuine. The bulk however was talking heads supported by still shots from the time. It ran for about half an hour and was engrossing.

After the cinema you follow along a natural progression of corridors that lead to galleries with displays. The walls display photographs or information panels in both Polish and English.

SS Uniform

SS Guard Uniform

The posters from the period were of course in German and Polish. They begin with the outbreak of war and progress though occupation and ultimate liberation (?) by the Soviets. The final item on display in the building is a portrait of Stalin.

20130614-Schindler-3After the outbreak you head through information on the Nazi terror. This begins by a walk through large Nazi flags and over a floor tiled with swastikas. It was the beginning of our feeling of general discomfort. As we continued we moved into an area covering the Jewish Ghetto. Here the hall changes to become the walls of the Ghetto. I am not sure if they are full height but they certainly convey the feeling. Along the walls are photos from the Ghetto and diary and letter excerpts. One is from Roman Polanski, the film director, when he was aged 8. They are quite chilling to read.

Another gallery that impressed me featured the Jagiellonian University. The academics tried to defy the Nazis and continue to provide education. They were all executed. You hear the orders being given and can read a translation in English.

Tram

Tram

Note the tiles

Note the tiles

Not much further along you enter a gallery set in Krakow where there is part of a full size tram with an enormous sign on its side saying “use prohibited by Jewish”. This room also had some aspects of daily life and showed where tramlines traversed the main market square.

The tour continues past a wall with photos of mass hangings. Explanatory notes describe what you can be executed for. In essence, most anything and this does not just apply to Jews. And the rules became harsher as the occupation continued.

You then pass a railway station replete with announcements and move into a section reproducing everyday life in Krakow.

Hairdressing Salon

Hairdressing Salon

I loved the hairdressing salon. I can remember my mother using similar kit.

The last real presentation concerns the liquidation of the P?aszów concentration camp. There is a railway car and personal items such as glasses and rings are lying in the ballast. It was done in two stages. The first was for workers and was discreetly done with subterfuge. The second, for the rest, had no subterfuge. It did not go well.

We finally exited the displays as the war ended past a portrait of Stalin and then through chambers with thousands of names.

By this stage we were feeling fairly down. This museum would touch any person, not just the sensitive. It is extremely well done which seems typical of contemporary Polish museums. It is at least as good as Rynek Underground and the Warsaw Uprising Museum, both of which are as good as museums I have seen anywhere. If you don’t have the stomach for Auschwitz, then this museum will fill many of the gaps.

The price for entry is a nominal 18 PLN or about $6 Australian. That to me is fantastic value. The museum can be accessed from the town centre on a number of buses, trams and even a local train using a 20 minute ticket which costs 2.80 PLN.

When were back in Rynek being attacked by golf buggy tour touts I asked one what the price would be to go to Schindler? When he said 480 PLN I gasped in surprise and replied it only cost 18 PLN to get in. He tried to justify the charge by saying that it includes his commentary. It would be far cheaper to go by comfortable taxi!

  1. Trev06-17-13

    Interesting David. Thanks and say Hi to Anna from Doris and I.