Oskar Schindler left a legacy. From Krakow to Jerusalem, he is remembered for his kind, humanitarian acts during WWII. He is arguably the kindest Nazi who ever lived and I have crossed historical paths with this legendary man on two occasions.
I visited Schindler’s Grave the first time I went to Israel in 2006. His grave is easy to find at the Mount Zion Catholic Cemetery in Jerusalem and well worth visiting. Then I visited Krakow, Poland in 2013. This presented the opportunity to visit the Enamel Factory owned by Schindler during WWII.
Krakow has many local tour guides that can take you to sites around the city. These tour guides drive around in vehicles that look like a cross between a golf cart and the popemobile. Equipped with a sound system, the tour guide can let a recording narrate the history behind sites while he can stay focused on driving.
Our small group of three was able to see many sites around the city in a short amount of time at a reasonable cost. Prices were firm and most of the tour guides and drivers were not willing to negotiate on pricing.
The Schindler factory lies near the Vistula River in a commercial area of town. It is an area surrounded by natural beauty but still has some of the less appealing conditions common to urban areas. On the drive from the area around the Main Square, I could see anti-Semitic graffiti along the sides of the road. Apparently, I am not the only one to notice this; other tourists have noted seeing this as well.
There is a certain sense of irony that a place that brings in millions of tourist dollars because of the extreme suffering that occurred there is still resentful of Jews. This wasn’t the case after WWII but it seems to be the case today, even with a very small Jewish population within the country.
But many Poles have been compassionate to Jews. Schindler will likely be remembered as the most sympathetic even though there have been others like Tadeusz Pankiewicz. Thankfully, Pankiewicz’s pharmacy is also recognized on Krakow city tours.
The enamel factory itself is not much of a factory at all these days. Renovated in 2010 as a museum, it looks more like an office building than a factory – clean and plain white with symmetrical glass windows. Aside from a large, clear display case full of pots and pans, there isn’t much to see in regard to what was manufactured there or how the factory operated with Jewish labor.
The main exhibit is Krakow Under Nazi Occupation 1939 – 1945. It is not centered entirely on the Schindler’s factory and includes many exhibits of life in Krakow under Nazi rule for Jews and non-Jewish Poles alike. Most of the displays are done in a timeline fashion and are designed as a coordinated maze to get you to follow walkways that lead to connecting rooms.
Historical information is segmented around common themes. Most of the displays are artful in nature and include numerous photographs, historical notes, and items from the time period.
One display, in particular, is a room with nothing but black and white photos and swastikas on every floor tile.
Some other displays play out the occupation with paper mache dolls. There wasn’t much information about the displays – at least not in English – but it was easy to get the gist of the message.
The bookstore inside the museum is amazing. I love historical books and I have an extreme weakness to books with lots of photos from the era. The store is small but contains many books on the subject of the Nazi occupation of Krakow. I didn’t want to buy anything there because I thought it would be hard to pack it in my luggage. Krakow was the first stop on a two-week vacation.
I made note of titles and ISBNs with hopes of purchasing these books upon my return to the U.S. I still have not been able to find the books for purchase here. These are not common books that are found on Amazon. The museum bookstore will sell to various nationalities but unfortunately, for now, most of these books cannot be shipped by the bookstore outside of Poland.