30 October 2011

Oskar Schindler's factory...

On the way to find Amon Göth's house, Gemmon and I stopped by Oskar Schindler's factory.

I don't know where I thought Oskar Schindler's factory was but I know I didn't think it was just on the edge of Krakow. In fact, if you walk from the central market square, you walk through the old Jewish community  (Kasimierz) to get there. Nearby is one of the two remaining sections of the old ghetto walls that are still standing.(for more about the Krakow Ghetto...)

One of the two remaining sections
of the Krakow Ghetto wall
Their tombstone-shaped cement still looks oddly fresh more than sixty years later.

The permanent exhibit at The Schindler factory is called Krakow Under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945 and it's devastating. It's a fairly confusing exhibit in that you feel like you are supposed to walk along in proscribed direction but it's never all that clear which way you are supposed to go and most of the ways to go are narrow, wind around small exhibits in a warren of tiny rooms, some with staircases between them. Twice, I followed a staircase to a complete dead end. It's made even more challenging by the fact that many of the museum exhibits aren't explained or set in context.

One example is this exhibit of marionettes... 

Puppets in the Schindler Museum

Whose were they? Why were they made? Who used them and where? Without that information which I could find nowhere -- either in the museum or online -- it's hard to know how to react to these puppets.

Another example is the very first exhibit I saw, a black and white film that played in a monitor set on a slant. It was a documentary about Jews made for who knows what purpose that may have meant to be supportive but the subtitles talked about how "they" "scurried to work", "liked playing in the park" and "of course, talked about work." It had no label that explained the source of the film, or even when it was made, so it compounded the horror of walking through room after room of evidence of group hatred by making me nervous that the museum was trying to stake out some separate, defensive position for the Poles -- either that they were just as victimized as their Jewish citizens or that they were, ultimately, heroic. Mercifully, this didn't turn out to be the case at all - the museum was an incredibly powerful and moving experience - so I can only think this museum is new enough that it hasn't the money or manpower to work out all the kinks quite yet. I write all this to say that, if you go, walk through to the end. I was so put off and confused by the beginning, I almost didn't.

I was especially happy to be there with Gemmon because I would have missed the full horror of the hall of proclamations that were issued by the Germans when they took over Poland in 1939. Before the Nazis got  their public address speakers installed all over Krakow, they issued orders to the populace through orders plastered on the walls in both Polish and German. The Schindler factory museum has created an exhibit you walk through with those orders from floor to ceiling on either side of you. Gemmon translated them for me..

"All Jews and Poles are required to bring their cars to be inspected and registered."

"No one who isn't Jewish can go in to a Jewish business and all businesses whose ownership was more than 50% Jewish must prominently identify themselves as a Jewish business."

"Everyone must turn in any guns or uniforms they have. Anyone found with either of these after (a certain date) will be shot."

It went on and on. And there was a horrific snapshot of a couple of jocular Nazis, smiling for the camera, as they took scissors to chop off a random man's beard and side curls.

By the end, Gemmon and I couldn't speak. We sat, for a bit, near some production stills from the Spielberg movie in the museum's "Movie Cafe". To be reminded of Hollywood felt a bit incongruous but, if it hadn't been for Stephen Spielberg, his movie and his money, there probably wouldn't have been a museum there at all. We then set off to find the house of Amon Göth. Gemmon has the address from a guide book and she led the way.

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