Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory

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What do you do when an occupying force moves into your beautiful city?  You resist, of course.  Just how mightily the Poles resisted Nazi occupation was made abundantly clear to me at Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory.

It was a damp morning in Kraków, but I didn’t want to waste one of my few remaining days in the city.  I had an imperfect understanding of the location of Schindler’s Factory, but I alighted from the tram, south of the river, and began my search.  I knew that I was in the right vicinity when I entered a huge square, full of sculpted seats and a sad photographic display in black and white. Plac Bohaterów Getta (Ghetto Heroes Square) commemorates the Polish Jews who were imprisoned and died in the Kraków Ghetto between 1941 and 1943.

Oskar Schindler was a Nazi party member and a war profiteer, who earned the gratitude of 1100 Jews by giving them a second chance at life.  It is a remarkable story and one that touches me deeply.

The museum is a little off the beaten track, and my map reading skills sadly lacking, so I went inside the tiny art gallery on the square. The proprietor kindly gave me precise instructions (in English!) and I found my way around the excavations and building work to Ul. Lipowa.  It was raining steadily and I fell into step with a young Polish couple with an umbrella, who were also going to the museum. It being Monday, admission was free from 10-2.00pm, and understandably the museum was busy.  Initially I was a little confused by the layout, and the number of students clustered around, but once I found the correct door I was hooked.

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Just a handful of the former workers saved by Oskar Schindler’s intervention.  The museum takes you through the years 1939-45, starting with life before the war.  Then comes German occupation, with its restrictions and consequences.  People are evicted from their homes with nothing but a few personal possessions.  A curfew is imposed and it becomes necessary to queue for hours to obtain the most basic food.  Polish secondary schools and universities are closed.  The Polish press is liquidated.  Any figure of influence or authority is regarded as a threat and dealt with accordingly.  The use of home radio sets is forbidden.  Loud hailers broadcast propaganda twice daily, and eventually the names of those sentenced to death.  Inexorably the rounding up of the Jews into the ghetto begins.

And the Polish response to this?  ‘Secret’ schools conducted in defiance, though involvement was punishable by death or consignment to a concentration camp.  An underground press and formation of a resistance movement to sabotage German efforts wherever possible.  The gallery below features a ‘secret’ teacher and messages from pupils.  The first face reminds me so much of photographs I have seen, from that era, of a deceased family member.  Many stories, both of pathos and of heroism, are featured throughout the museum.

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Up concrete stairs to the first floor, the museum really comes to life, introducing a pre-war Kraków photographic studio and a cast of characters. Before the war Jews accounted for over 25% of the community, and both Christians and Jews sat together on the City Council.

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A narrow corridor leads to the Stereoscope- a device used for looking at individual stereoscopic photos.  They rotate inside a drum, giving the illusion of three-dimensionality.  This one dates back to the late 19th century.  It was a revelation.

On 1st September, 1939 war broke out, and on 6th September the Nazis entered Kraków. The Wehrmacht flag flew over the sacred site of Wawel, and from the outset the prohibitions and orders began.  Jewish shops had to be marked, and were plundered by the Germans, and all Jews over the age of 12 had to wear armbands with the Star of David on the right arm.  Racial segregation had begun.

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And then the nightmare of the Ghetto.  Intimidation, round-ups in the streets, imprisonment and interrogation in the Gestapo HQ on Ul. Pomorska and the prison at 7 Ul. Montelupich.  I read a few of the accounts of life in the ghetto, and the tram that ran through but didn’t stop.  There were sympathisers, of course, like Tadeusz Pankiewicz and his staff at the Eagle Pharmacy, who smuggled letters and messages to and from the ghetto.

17,000 people were contained within the ghetto walls, where 250-300 calories was the daily allowance for a Jew.  Details of the resettlement can be found here.  I had not realised that the arched shapes of the ghetto walls were intentionally designed to resemble Jewish tombstones.  How sick!

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Residents worked both within and outside of the ghetto, the luckier ones at Oskar Schindler’s Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik- DEF. These were taken to and from work under armed escort.  If you were not fit to work you would eventually be deported to an annihilation camp.

Zabłocie was an industrial area, with successful factories dealing in wire, mesh and iron products, soap, and enamelware and metal products. During the war a production plant for aeroplane parts and radiators, a crate factory and a barrack builders were added. Schindler took over receivership of the enamelware company, which was in financial straits, and with the aid of Jewish capital set about expansion.  A munitions section was added, to make mess tins for the Wehrmacht, and shells and fuses for artillery and air missiles, to assist in the war effort.  Working conditions were hard, but by steadily increasing his Jewish labour force from the ghetto, Schindler saved around 1100 grateful souls.

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In Schindler’s office a glass cube designed by Michal Urban is the centrepiece.  It contains metal cylinders, inscribed with the names of the 1100.

He was no saint, Schindler.  Perhaps that makes his story all the more remarkable.  I have included links that will enlarge on the story if you are interested. The museum is over 3 floors, in the original factory building.  I found it to be charged with atmosphere.

The Historical Museum website brings together information on all of the Kraków museums.

120 comments

  1. My daughter and I visited this museum a few summers ago (like you, we got a bit lost in the neighborhood!), and we found it to be a fascinating glimpse of Krakow life for Jews as the war progressed. It was a sobering place, and a complex one, but it was certainly more uplifting than our previous day’s journey to Auschwitz.😦 I enjoyed your post and learned something new: that those metal pots and plates are inscribed with names – I did not catch that while there!

    1. I’ve never wanted to go to Auschwitz. Just reading about the experience is more than enough. Schindler intrigued me, and I could pick and choose a little what to look at in the museum. The kids get to me. What must it have been like to live through this as a child? I’m so glad you liked my post. Many thanks for your company. 🙂

  2. I would like to see this Jo but when I went to Krakow I was just a few days too early ahead of opening day. The Schindler story is a good one but there were a lot of other Schindlers and to some extent he was fortunate that Spielberg choose to make a film about him. He might, for example, have chosen the story of Carl Lutz who was the Swiss Vice Consul in Budapest (Hungary) who together with the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg are generally acknowledged with saving over sixty thousand Jews through the issue of Swiss/Swedish documents and ‘protective letters’ which enabled them to leave Budapest and travel to Palestine. They were responsible for the largest rescue operation of Jews of the Second World War but few people know of them.

    1. It’s true, Andrew. You need to write the piece! 🙂 Meg pointed me to a very interesting Guardian story concerning Thomas Keneally and how he became involved. I would have included it if I’d had the link sooner. Thanks for your company. Enjoy your English Sunday morning 🙂 🙂

      1. I wrote about it in a visit to Budapest – The Shoes on the Danube is a memorial that remembers the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were lined up and ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away by the current.

        The Arrow Cross was a national socialist party which led a government in Hungary known as the Government of National Unity from October 1944 to March 1945. During its short rule it is estimated that up to fifteen thousand people were murdered on the streets and eighty-thousand people were deported to their deaths in the Auschwitz concentration camp. It is said that they were so nasty that even Adolf Hitler thought they were extreme!

    2. I remember the memorial shoes, Andrew, but I don’t think I’d registered scale. Down the years there’ve been more than enough bad guys, haven’t there. Trouble is, we’re not out of the woods yet 😦 Just done Sunday lunch and ready to watch Murray. Happy Father’s Day 🙂

  3. Thank you Jo for this informative post. I recently watched the movie again but am fascinated with this museum and your detail of the town, the history, the reality. It is a period that we must never forget and I hope ours and future generations can learn from. Best wishes to you.

  4. You’ve done a marvellous job with this post, transferring your emotional reaction to us, and telling the story with absolute clarity and detail. Did it take a long time to write, or did it just flow because you were so caught up in it?

    1. Hello sweetheart 🙂 Feet up for a bit? I knew very much what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, Meg, but I wanted the facts to be correct and as full as I could make them without lecturing. All of yesterday and most of Wednesday evening, so yes, relatively long. I was glad when it was finished- a bit the same reaction I had when I came out of the museum. There is a perfect bar selling natural wines just a few steps away and I was happy to just sit and let it go. How about you- good day? 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for your weaving of this story. It’s so important to remember history. Sometimes, with travel, all we want is to explore the happy places and times. But the sad ones teach us much more.

    1. I am beyond horrified when I go back to this period in history, Susan. The sad thing is that we still haven’t learnt where hatred and intolerance can lead. Witness Orlando, and then a tragic death yesterday in our country which makes no sense. A charismatic lady MP with two young children, shot and stabbed in the street after her political surgery. Where ever will it end? Thank you for your thoughts.

  6. So much death and tragedy. Those poor souls, all of them. Thanks for the post. I don’t know if I could visit. I visited a famous prison once and it was horrible.

    1. I could never do the concentration camp at Auschwitz. At least in the museum you could choose where to focus, and there were some wonderful stories as well as the evil. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. 🙂

      1. Yes, I like that you showed those courageous acts of ordinary folks. They must have been compelled to react.

  7. Beautifully written account of your visit Jo. I didn’t know about the arches and the sick symbolism there either – the inhumanity and depravity is incomprehensible. It was an amazing story of courage though – Schindler despite his personal flaws was a remarkable man and saved many lives🙂

    1. There’s something about an imperfect hero, isn’t there? I wish I might have half the courage, but I sincerely hope that we never see this in our world again. So much hate at the moment! In Leeds a fine lady MP with a young family was gunned down on the street yesterday. It sent shock waves.

      1. Absolutely Jo – totally agree with all your sentiments. The current trend towards polarisation and fear is horrible – such a beautiful soul by all accounts and horrendous for her poor husband, little daughters, family and friends. I hadn’t heard of her before this tragedy but have been so moved by her speeches and what she stood for – her husband’s tribute moved me to tears as did seeing her maiden speech in the Commons. Hope her legacy will be to create a more loving, tolerant and peaceful world – she was a very brave and selfless lady!

  8. So interesting, that must have been very moving to visit. I didn’t know Schindler’s factory still existed – how spine-chilling to visit the museum in the exact location where the events happened. Another reason to bump Kraków up my (ever-lengthening) list.

  9. I was only reading yesterday that Steven Spielberg said he’d never make another movie after making this one because it was such a traumatic experience (but, he did end up making more movies). I wish we could learn from the past, Jo – but unfortunately the way things are going these days I don’t think some people have learned xxx

    1. It’s just not going to happen, is it, Dianne? Look at Orlando! And just yesterday a terrible thing happened in my son James’ city, Leeds. A vibrant and happy female MP, with a young family, was attacked after her political surgery- shot and stabbed. Died in hospital. The shock waves are still reverberating. Such a lovely and caring woman, trying to do her best for her constituents.

      1. I saw that, Jo – it’s horrifying. Everyone in the public eye is so concerned. That woman’s poor family. My heart goes out to them xxx

  10. A sad time in our history Jo – very sorry for what your family endured and your Dad. Thank you for sharing, your post is a reminder of how dark it can be.

    1. Mary, words fail me sometimes when I look at our world and how we live in it. One tragedy follows another. It’s hard not to get downhearted sometimes. Hugs, darlin’!

  11. A very different and sombre post from your usual Jo. Very well written and one to cause me to stop and think. I suppose with your Polish background this history is very close to your heart. A time that we should never forget.

    1. The closest we got to the horror was Dad being taken into forced labour by the Germans, and the inevitable disruption of family life. I cannot imagine living through this, Jude. How can you hate so much? Yes- I left cheery Jo behind in the last post. It’s quite a contrast. Normal service to be resumed. 🙂 How you doing? Still got company?

      1. So we are lucky to have you when you think about it. Hatred is often caused by a lack of understanding, distrust, mistrust, intolerance and unfortunately following the crowd. Still happens. Just look at Trump and his followers…

        Company gone back today. Nice to see them, but playing hostess becomes quite wearying!

  12. Jo this post really touched my heart. Perhaps even moreso with current events. To think that at that time there was so much hatred and prejudice and barbaric atrocities. Yet there was a light of goodness among it. Thank you for sharing your tour with us

    1. It’s frightening where hatred can lead, isn’t it, Sue? It’s not a lesson we seem to have learned. There were some wonderful stories in the museum, but some harrowing ones too. Thanks for sharing it with me. 🙂

  13. Oh God I’ve just dunked 250 calories of ginger nut in my coffee😦
    What terrible, wicked times these were Jo, Britain was so lucky to escape occupation. The museum complete with photos of ordinary people must have been incredibly moving.

  14. I loved the movie, Jo. How wonderful to be able to visit the museum and to write such a moving post about it. What a great pity that such a hero died in poverty and almost unknown. I’m so glad that this story was eventually told.

    1. I’ve meant to go for a long while, Ad, but it’s a bit out of the way and the opportunity never arose. Things to do on a rainy day 😦
      I needed a drink afterwards, and there was a nice little bar close by. 🙂

    1. It’s not easy to watch. At least in the museum you could choose what to look at, and there were some great stories as well as all the horror. Thanks for reading.

  15. such an evil time- horrific. I probably will never get there- so I appreciate your taking the time to put this post together. When we went to Normandy and saw the US Cemetery I was struck by the human cost of that war- and when we then went to the German cemetery not far away I was so angry I had to leave because of the emotional feelings I had being in that place. I do not ever want to step one foot in Germany. I was born in 1942 and only a young child when the war ended but I remember the photos I saw in Life magazine- and I am still unforgiving towards those who did those awful things.

    Here’s a link to that German cemetery: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Cambe_German_war_cemetery

    1. It’s hard to understand such inhuman evil, Kathe. It’s easy to forget as we get on with our lives but they must have been terrible times to live through. My Dad’s life was changed forever by being taken off to do forced labour, for no crime whatsoever.

  16. Thank you so much for sharing this, I didn’t know there was a museum dedicated to him. I have seen the movie and I remember thinking “this was truly a good human being.” Not long after, I heard that he had been declared “an honorable man.”
    At the end of the movie, when they showed “Schindlers’ Jews”….it was one of the most touching things I have ever seen.
    He truly was an honorable man.

  17. I didn’t know about this museum – so thank you for educating me. I don’t think I would be able to visit it without going utterly to pieces. (I broke down less than halfway through the film, and couldn’t stop sobbing.) Your revelation about the the arches mimicking Jewish tombstones made me shudder. My admiration to you, Jo, for managing the visit and writing this post.

    Susan at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos

    1. I did not linger at some of the more harrowing details, Susan. I’ve never done Auschwitz and don’t want to. Black and white film helps to distance it all a little but I was heartened by much of what I read and saw. It wasn’t just about evil but about good too. Thank you very much for reading this.

  18. I was raised by a woman who’s husband had been to a concentrations camp -twice. The shadows of WWII were everywhere, on our farm, in our villages. I am glad you visited Schindler’s factory.

    May this time never be forgotten.

    1. Some of the stories are shocking but there were some wonderful and brave people too. I admire their courage and don’t know how well I would be able to respond in the situation.

  19. Whenever I come across those year’s history I can’t but feel terrified.
    I ‘ve read a lot about invasions and prosecutions there , and don’t stop wondering how human beings could be so cruel and ferocious against each other….

    But humanity ,seem to have learnt nothing from history if people go on perpetuating wars and crimes as if nothing happened….
    So, is this the destiny of man?

    Your great post should be read in schools as a reminder…!

    1. Thank you, Anna. It’s hard to understand how this could have been allowed to happen, isn’t it, but when you look at our poor world- so much goes on that saddens me. There were some wonderful stories in the museum, as well as all the evil.

  20. When I hear or read about the name Schindler, I think about elevators and the movie Schindler’s List. The museum sounds fascinating, sure to leave an impression. I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and the Anna Frank museum in Amsterdam before, but must add this to my mental list for whenever I make it to Poland. Interesting blog post, Jo. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Harrowing in places, Liesbet, but I didn’t linger over the violence. There’s enough sorrow in the world, isn’t there? I tried to focus on the good. Thanks for reading it.

  21. This was a fascinating read, Jo and very moving. I’ve been contemplating watching Schindler’s List again and you may have given me the impetus to do it. (It’s one of those films that is amazing to watch but hard to bring yourself to watch again.)

    1. In the museum you can pick and choose what to look at, Heather, so it’s probably much easier than the film. I tried to look for the good in it all. Unimaginable times, weren’t they?

  22. wonderful post, Jo and very well written. yes, schindler was no saint but he was morally righteous. so very sad that there is so much hatred in our world, both then and now. 😦 thank you for sharing…

  23. Brilliant read I have lost touch with your blog – partially because of my own infrequent blogging but also I think the feed has been adjusted – couple of people have mentioned not seeing everything – trust you are well off to catch up.

  24. I’m sure it was both horribly sad and inspirational (for Schindler’s part in saving at least some Jews) to go through this museum. I’ve seen the movie, Schindler’s List, which was really powerful, though it’s been years since I’ve seen it. Thank you for taking us through this museum and sharing the history, Jo. We have The Holocaust Museum here in Washington which is very powerful as well, especially an exhibit that sounds similar to what you describe. It takes visitors through a normal middle class Polish home before the war, into the ghetto and the family’s ghetto quarters, and then into a cattle car, and then to one of the concentration camps. It really hits a person hard to follow in the footsteps of a Jewish family, from being fairly well off to becoming destitute in such squalor. You’re right in that Schindler was no saint, but at least his saving of a relatively large group of people (small in comparison to the entire genocide) shows that there is always goodness and evil in everyone. I’ll have to revisit our Holocaust Museum here and share some of it on my blog.

    1. Thanks, Cathy. There were some wonderful stories as well as the more harrowing ones. I felt quite relieved to get back out into some weak sunshine, and the very nice wine bar close by.

    1. It’s a strange world, Seonaid, and some of the things that happen can hardly be believed. I wasn’t sure what I would make of the museum but I’m really glad I went.

  25. Thank you for sharing this- I was not aware of the museum. The movie brought Schindler to life for many who had never heard of him. So moving, the metal cylinders engraved with the names. My husband’s maternal grandparents were fortunate to leave Poland in 1938 to come to the US, unfortunately his paternal grandparents perished at the hand of the Nazis. An important time in history to remember so that it should never happen again.

    1. My Dad was taken from home to do forced labour in Germany, and his whole family disrupted by that war. It’s incredible to me how inhuman we can be, but there were some very inspirational people too. Thanks for reading.

  26. Ein informativer Beitrag über dieses schlimme Kapitel der Geschichte, das die Nazis den Menschen angetan haben. Ich finde auch, dass man immer wieder darüber berichten soll und muss, damit kommende Generationen Menschen Kenntnis davon haben und sich so eine absurde Tat an Menschen nicht wiederholt. Hab eine frohe Zeit, Jo.

  27. . .horrific Jo, and what I find so scary is that atrocities such as these continue to the modern day. Will the human race ever learn just to live and accept each other?

    Thank you so so much for sharing, a very moving post.

    1. Pure evil is hard to understand, isn’t it, Becky? Difficult enough just getting along with each other day to day! (excepting you, of course 🙂 Oh, and I’d better include Robert 🙂 ) Thanks for reading, hon.

  28. Dear Jo, I haven’t seen film, but now I am eager to know more about it, however, not sure I could handle emotionally it. It is such a sad part of this city I prefer not recalling, however, I know that you cannot hide from historic reality. A very well-written post that went through me like an electrical impulse…

    1. Our modern world is not so very much better, Ann, depending where you look. I prefer bright, happy posts but just sometimes the sadness gets through. 🙂 Hugs, sweetheart!

      1. So right, Jo, I am also trying to write happy posts, but sometimes cannot because it is not exactly…
        Hugs back! I love your every post, think about publishing a book with pictures, people would love it! Why not, everything is possible if you really want it! How about that? You have a light style of writing, it makes people want to read more! It is a unique feature! Remember it!

      2. That’s a sweet thought, darlin, and thank you very much. 🙂 It is something I think about doing but I need a shove (and maybe a lot less blogging time 🙂 ) to get it done.

    1. I’ve wanted to go for a number of years but the opportunity hasn’t really been there. Small hooray for rainy days 🙂 (the sun came out in the afternoon) Thanks for your company, Margi 🙂

  29. He was indeed a very special man. I saw the movie ‘Schindlers List’ when it hit the cinemas (aaaaages ago) with Liam Neson as Schindler. A very good film.
    So sick about the archades, I’d never thought or heard of that either, that they where made like tombstones. Interesting post Jo, thanks for sharing.

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