Originally published on 10 May 2012.
Well, if I didn’t get enough touring in yesterday, I needed to go to the Schindler’s Factory Museum.
But first, breakfast time! I went to this place called Coffee Heaven, which sounds like a wonderful, magical place, but it’s totally not! I got scolded for trying to take a picture, the staff hardly made eye contact, and the looked kind of perturbed that I was in there! The coffee was good and so was the muffin, but I totally should have gotten the Polish breakfast again!
Moving on! Next up, I switched from my hostile hostel to an actual hotel. They were running a special rate (200 zl/night, which was about $65), and so I moved my stuff right then and there! The owner of the hostel yelled at me to pay when I knew I had already paid. So long!
And now it was time to go to the Schindler Factory Museum. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the Krakow city center, but it took me about 30 thanks to a couple of missed turns. =) That’s travel life.
When you walk in, you buy your ticket and walk up the stairs. The first room is all pictures of life before the war–pictures of people in their wedding dresses, family pictures, people having fun, etc. There are sounds of people talking, the radio, and typical house noises. Some facts are on the hallway walls: During the inter-war period, ¼ of all Krakowians were Jewish. Krakow was experiencing growth and a booming economy; it was the cultural center of Poland.
The next room looked like a carnival or a movie theater playing a film about Schindler’s factory. It described the working conditions, which were quite good for the time—they even got one or two bowls of hearty soup and a couple of servings of bread and coffee per day. They made metal goods, such as pots and pans that were sold both in stores and on the black market. Schindler was repeatedly arrested by the Gestapo for smuggling drugs, but he always got out unscathed. He made a significant moral transformation, although not a complete 180-degree turn. But he did save upwards of 1200 Jews, putting his own life in danger to do it. There was at least one time when he went directly to Plaszow work camp to get some of his workers out when they were taken away.
On September 1, 1939, the Nazis began bombing Poland, including Krakow, at 5:00 am. Pols were not allowed to help Jews at the risk of being shot on the spot. The next hallway I entered was cold. I could hear sounds of people talking, factory work, and bombs, then I had to walk through a maze of Nazi flags. Pols and Jews alike were mistreated and restricted from living in their own city. Polish professors were arrested, and Hans Frank, the General Governor from the Nazi army himself told them they were about to be arrested. Many died in prison; others were shipped to concentration camps. There was to be no higher education. People were to be educated enough to know that there was no way to overpower the Nazis. General Frank moved into Wawel Castle.
Krakow was “Germanized” as quickly as possible. The main market square was renamed “Adolf Hitler Platz,” which means “Adolf Hitler Square.” In this exhibit I could hear German marching music and singing. There were also pictures of the Nazis having a good time and having run of the city.
Sounds of work came from the next room, and there were pictures of people being beaten and mistreated and hanged. Jews were taken to prison, and to give you and idea of their fear, there was an old Polish prison cell down a set of stairs you could go down to in a corner. It is a tremendous understatement to say it was creepy and frightening. You couldn’t see anything in the cell but darkness, and all you could hear were scared whispers.
Then there was an office, probably like Schindler’s office. There were hats and coats on a hat rack and books sitting out. This room was interactive and very informative because it explained a lot about the factory and Schindler’s role. Not only was the factory for making pots and pans, but also for munitions. The factory used to be called “Emilia” Factory, or enamel factory, and belonged to a prosperous Jewish family, but of course that was done away with. Schindler bought it and started manufacturing some of the same things. At first he hired mostly Pols, then mostly Jews because they were cheap labor–they didn’t have to be paid at all.
After this exhibit was a bit of a relief. There was a room all about the underground theatre. In the ghetto, Jews held performances in their homes and in the basements of businesses. There had to be some way to think about something other than how awful it was, and this was their way of escaping, at least figuratively.
Now I headed to the Jewish Ghetto, just half a km from the factory. The ghetto was like a labor camp, and if you didn’t have the right paper work when they checked, you were shipped off to another camp. The area where the ghetto was located was built for the 3000 people who already lived there. But when all the Jews were relocated there, suddenly the population went up to 17,000. It was crowded, the sewage system couldn’t handle that many people, and many apartments housed five or six families at once. Jews were not allowed to leave, but there’s a pharmacy there called Eagle Pharmacy. It was used to smuggle messages in and out during the War, and now it’s remembered for that.
Then the path led back to Schindler. This exhibit was again like an office, but bigger. There were books on the walls and office machines like typewriters and old phones. The exhibit gave a lot of information about the operation’s inner workings. Schindler was not known as a nice person, with two mistresses, a history of Gestapo arrests, unfair trading and gambling on his track record, among various other things, people simply did not trust him. He even used the factory to cover up spying against Poland. But the fact remains that he did save people’s lives, though that very well could have gotten him killed.
Next up was a labor camp room. The floor was gravel, there was machinery for manual labor, and there was a barbed-wire fence in the back. Things were very quiet. Then I walked downstairs and the last thing to see is the “Room of Choices.” The point was that we all have the opportunity to choose what we do—for others, for ourselves, and for humanity. Pretty humbling, depending on what kind of choices you tend to make.
So now that we’re all somber and reflective, let’s get some lunch! I wanted to find the place yesterday’s tour guide had told us about called The Olive Tree. It’s supposed to be completely kosher, abiding by every Jewish law in the Old Testament. I knew I’d just seen it the day before, but I had no idea where it was! I ended up going to a place called “Kuchina Domava.” The sign said Polish Traditional Home Cooking, and that sounded about right for me!
I walked in and the little man working didn’t know a lot of English, but he knew enough of what I was saying to give me an English menu and we got started. I decided on this thing that someone had told me I needed to try. I don’t remember what it’s called, but it’s a potato pancake with goulash on top. And it was SO good! And very heavy. I was so hungry that I ate it too fast, and I had a bit of a stomach ache afterward, but it was totally worth it!
I walked back over to the Old Town and browsed the Cloth Hall shopping area. I went to the underground museum of the old church and the original Main Market Square, too. It’s a small museum, but they had a lot of very impressive artifacts, such as graves with bones still in them, original wood, pottery and tools found on the site, and the like. There were also models of what the church looked like when it was first built in the 900s, then when it was reconstructed, and added onto in the 1600s (if I remember the dates correctly).
And next up, I thought it’d be fun to walk the Plant Garden path around the city! After my large lunch, I needed to work up an appetite so I’d have room for supper, so walking 4km sounded like a good idea. The Krakowians have done a wonderful job of landscaping. It’s right along the river for part of the way, which is my favorite thing—I love sitting or walking by the water! Also, the fire-breathing dragon happens to be on the path, so I got to stop over and get a picture with him as well.
It’s hard to time the fire part when you’re depending on someone else to take your picture, but here’s one of him breathing fire!
Making my way around, I decided I was not going to be hungry enough for a full meal, but I needed to eat something to get me through till breakfast, so I got a traditional Polish soup, which was about the right amount. It’s called Zurek Staropolski, and it’s a rye flour soup with boiled egg and sausage in it. Probably wouldn’t get it every day, but I was glad I tried it!
And the final stop of the day: Bed time! This time, I went “home” to a nice hotel with nice people who possess excellent customer service skills. It was the first good night’s sleep I’d gotten on this trip, and it’s a good thing: I had a night train ride ahead of me the next day!