Photo exhibits show life during the Nazi occupationImage: Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa
November 9, 2010
Steven Spielberg made Oskar Schindler's name immortal as the man who saved over a thousand Jewish lives in World War II. In Krakow, a museum and memorial recently opened in Schindler's former factory.
An industrial complex in Krakow is hardly the usual place to find hordes of tourists. However in this part of the city, tourist buses line the streets - and it's all because this is the location of Oskar Schindler's factory.
The American film director Steven Spielberg made the factory famous in 1993 when he filmed parts of his Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List" at the factory. The story follows Schindler as he tries to save his Jewish workforce from Nazi persecution and the concentration camps.
Until recently, people had to peer through the locked gates to get a look at the factory. But as of this summer, the building is now open to all visitors.
The Krakow authorities have converted the factory into a museum, which is currently housing an exhibition called "Krakow: Occupation 1939-1945," examining life during Nazi rule.
The exhibition shows the history of Oskar Schindler himself, and his workers. Curator Monika Bednarek said while Schindler is the "main protagonist" of the exhibition, "he's not the only one."
The exhibition also charts the Nazi occupation as a whole, and puts the fate of the Jewish workers in Schindler's factory into context.
Schindler's place in history
Oskar Schindler lived from 1908 to 1974, and was the son of an industrialist. In 1939, after the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany, Schindler acquired an enamel factory which had previously been in Jewish hands.
The factory produced tin ware and later shells and detonators for the war effort. Schindler directly benefitted from the so-called 'Ayranization' of Jewish factories and businesses, and as the war progressed he made a fortune on the black market.
Despite his Nazi membership, Schindler became increasingly concerned about the cruel fate of his Jewish workforce. He added 1,200 workers to his famous list, labeling them 'essential' to the war effort. By doing so, he saved them from certain death at a Nazi concentration camp.
After the war, Schindler's enamel factory became state-owned and was converted for use by a telecommunications company. In 2002 it was abandoned, only to be bought by the city council three years later. "The council decided to turn it into a museum," said Bednarek. With the help of EU funding, the building was renovated.
Modern exhibits entice young visitors
The exhibition begins in the Krakow of the 1930s with a range of photos - such as women walking in the city and Jews on the way to the synagogue.
"First of all we see the history before the war, so we can understand what happened during the war," explained Bendarek.
Then the exhibits chart the outbreak of war, as German soldiers marched through Poland on September 6, 1939. There's even a reconstruction of the Jewish ghetto.
With the help of touch-screen displays, life-size murals and multimedia exhibits, the history of the period is brought to life. The curators hope these types of techniques will help appeal to younger visitors.
"With this technology we can reach young people," said Grzegorz Jezowski, who helped put together the exhibition. "It makes it more attractive for them."
A memorial to Oskar Schindler
Schindler himself only features quite briefly in the exhibition. His story is told through photos, original documents and furniture from the factory.
In the middle of one room is a giant transparent cube, filled with tin pots, bowls and plates that were produced in Schindler's factory. The instillation is meant to represent the history of the entrepreneur and his workers. In the center hang the names of around 1,200 Jewish workers whose lives were saved by Schindler.