Friday, July 16, 2010

Poland -- New Schindler's Factory museum in Krakow

 Schindler's desk. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

When I was in Krakow for the Festival of Jewish Culture, I had the opportunity to visit the new Schindler's Factory museum -- a branch of the city's History Museum that tells the story of the Nazi occupation of Krakow in 1939-45 and is located in the administration building of what was Oskar Schindler's enamelware factory.

 Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The museum is a wonderful combination of traditional objects and interactivity and in particular uses sound in a remarkably evocative way.

I wrote a piece for the International Herald Tribune and New York Times web site.

On June 11, the factory’s sprawling administration building opened as Krakow’s newest museum, an ambitious, multimedia evocation of Krakow’s experience under Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945. Three years in the making, Schindler’s Museum (4 Lipowa Street, cost €3.7 million, or about $4.7 million.

The new museum uses Schindler’s famous story as a springboard to recount a broader narrative that encompasses oppression and resilience, heroism and deceit.

“The history we see here is a reminder that there is an alternative to inaction, a reminder that when we learn of crimes that cry out against our conscience we cannot stand by in quiet revulsion, hoping the world will fix itself,” said the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who toured the museum during an official visit to Krakow July 3.

Formally a branch of Krakow’s Historical Museum, Schindler’s Factory is “a museum of the occupation that shows what the wartime experience was like in Krakow and shows the context of all the stories — of Jews in Krakow, of Oskar Schindler, of Cracovians, of the German occupiers,” said Edyta Gawron, a historian who was part of the team that developed the museum concept. “Such a museum was needed,” she said. “People visit Auschwitz, but they have no idea of what life was like here in Krakow.”The new museum combines photographs, artifacts and other traditional objects with interactive components, sound, set-piece reconstructions and film and photo projections to provide a full-immersion effect.

You can watch contemporary film footage out the windows of a wartime-era tram, for example — film of traffic, pedestrians, soldiers and roundups. Or peek into cramped family quarters or the hideout of underground resistance fighters. Or read posters announcing everything from circus performances to executions.

A labyrinthine route leads through exhibit sections based on chronology, specific themes, and the experiences of individuals. Personal testimony and interviews are used throughout. The choices people had to make in order to survive also form part of the story, and some sections deal with collaboration and betrayal.

Sound effects ranging from music to reproduced radio broadcasts to ordinary city noises heighten the impact of the visuals.

The symbolism is sometimes tangible. One section is paved with floor tiles that bear the Nazi swastika.

“It was a dilemma how to show Nazi symbols without seeming to promote them,” Ms. Gawron said, “but in this case, though some people are shocked, it clearly works — the swastikas are there, but they are being trampled underfoot.”
Read full story HERE

The one aspect of the museum that has raised criticism (among people I talked to) is the section on the role of the Catholic Church during the occupation, and in particular that of the Archbishop of Krakow, Adam Sapieha. The information panel on Sapieha states that he aided Jews by intervening with German authorities and urging local clergy to help hide Jews and issue false baptismal papers.

 Photo: Emily Finer

But it ignores the general anti-semitic attitudes expressed by the church and Sapieha himself. I was told, however, that more information including interactive material would be added to this section of the museum exhibit. I hope this is true and that the full context will be presented.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, sounds like an interesting debate and great addition to the list of things to do in Krakow. I'm interested in this from an historical perspective having spent a couple of years in Krakow visiting both Owociem (Auschwitz) and Schindler's Fabrik. In my opinion, the holocaust story needs to become more inclusive of the gypsys and others who were equally persecuted - in some cases it could be argued more so on a per capita basis - and more 'successfully' as there are few voices left to remember and defend their history.