Sitting just across the river from the central hub of tourism in Kraków, Poland is Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory. Acquired in 2007, the factory underwent three years of work to turn half the building into a new museum. In 2010, the permanent exhibition “Kraków under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945” opened, which became a small portion of the larger Historical Museum of the City of Kraków. While the exhibition is held in Schindler’s factory, people might visit expecting solely to learn about Schindler and those he saved, but the exhibition surrounds the occupation, Ghetto, and liquidation of Kraków.
Having never been to Kraków before, I walked to the museum which gave me the chance to see the Kazimierz (Jewish District) and several memorials to those who died during the Ghetto and the Holocaust. Before you even enter the museum, you see the façade of the enamel factory, which serves as the beginning of the emotional journey the museum presents.
Upon entering the first gallery, the museum immediately makes you feel like a citizen in Kraków during the six years of occupation. Each sound, visual, lighting effect, and walking path is tailored to give the visitor a tangible experience of Kraków at any point during Nazi occupation. This ‘theatricalization’ as the museum calls it, makes a lasting impact and becomes unforgettable.
To me, two standout areas of the museum that use this theatricalization take up two transitioning hallway galleries. Entering recently-occupied Kraków, you navigate through a long hallway plastered in Nazi orders written in both Polish and German. While being visually overwhelmed with hundreds of orders, you must also weave between Nazi flags as the Nazi takeover fully takes root. Nearing the end of the exhibition, you enter a hallway that is crumbling, somber, and the darkest area of the building. Walking along the pathway, you’re surrounded by recreations of what Kraków’s streets appeared as during the liquidation of the Ghetto. Once you make it to the end of the hallway, you’re suddenly overwhelmed with bright, white lights and the scenery of the Płaszów concentration camp with barbed wire, rocky flooring, and overpowering noises from the camp. The juxtaposition of these two spaces is jarring and gives you the feeling you are seeing and entering the camp with those who faced the same fate and leaves an impactful memory of the museum.
Schindler’s Factory rocketed to my top museums list, though I am a bit biased being a History major with a Holocaust focus. Each gallery offers plenty to read and see, bordering on too much text in some areas. Most people spend around two hours inside, and that is not nearly enough time to view all the written and visual media presented throughout the exhibit. I was fortunate the day I visited to be able to walk right in and purchase a ticket, but I would recommend pre-purchasing one online as the museum can be quite busy at times. For those with or without knowledge of Kraków’s history, this museum is a must visit and well worth the small entry fee.Ticket Price – around $6USD, 24PLN
4 Lipowa Street, 30-702 Kraków, Poland https://www.mhk.pl/branches/oskar-schindlers-factory
Erin Newman is a recent graduate of the University of Leicester where she got her MA in Museum Studies. During her time there, she specialized in heritage and focused her research on the US and UK museum sector shifts under the rise of post-truth. @ENewman_13