For we are human, above all
Being ahead of time. What does this phrase actually mean? In school, we often hear that many writers, politicians, doctors, etc. have been ahead of their time. That they reached a certain point of knowledge that made them superior to the other learned men of their eras.
Contemporary, being ahead of time, automatically implies the idea of having acces to powerful tehnological devices. Nowadays, the strength comes from owning as many tehnological inovations, as possible. The saying “I’ve got the power!” doesn’t have a hidden content, it literally refers to having what other people/ countries do not have. But things were not always like this. The struggle for having / ruling the world has obsessed many minds. In the name of global superiority, total power and prestige, people have fought wars. We will go back in time, to such a period of human history to discover that in every darkness there is light, that in every misery there is some good, that being ahead of time means much more than having power.
Today, I will talk about a place that everyone should visit. A place that will make you shed tears because, here, you can feel the sorrow and the pain, it is flying in the air, no so powerful like in the old days, but still…You will feel regret like you have never felt it and in your brain there’s going to be a strom, for you will not understand why some things happened. You will ask yourself “why?” more than you have ever did in your entire life. We are visiting “Schindler’s Factory” in Krakow.
Adolf Hitler, leader of the german Nazi Party just ordered the attack on Poland. At the first of September 1939, the Second World War starts. Germany occupies Poland and soon, the Russians, who were bound to support the germans territorial initiative through the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, come to their aid, thus helping them fully controll Poland. Now, it is important to understand why Hitler wanted this territory under total supervision and obedience. Historians say that he was afraid of a british attack. He considered Britan as his major enemy and, in order to make sure that they would not interfere with his actions, he had to secure the eastern flank through which the they could attack. This is why he wanted Poland to become a neutral land, when the polish gouvernement denied this, Hitler decided to invade.
As we all know, after subduing Poland, the Nazy leader start to implement his antisemitic politics, here. All the jews were forced to relocate in what was named the Ghetto and soon after, they were again moved in concentration camps. Jews, gypsies and homosexuals from all over the world started to be deported and sent to the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camps, three in number (Auschwitiz I, Auschwitz II – Bierkenau and Auschwitz III - Monowitz).
In this socio-economical context, a business man called Oskar Schindler found the perfect opportunity to gain some money and profit from what was happening to Poland due to the instauration of the nazy regim. He managed to get the ownership of a factory situated in Krakow, of course a bankrupt one that he got nearly for free because he was going to work in the name of “the glory of Germany”. This factory was named Pierwsza Małopolska Fabryka Naczyń Emaliowanych i Wyrobów Blaszanych "Rekord", but Schindler renamed it in “Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik or DEF”. Getting the factory might have been easy because Schindler bribed important german authorities, but finding the money to make the factory fully functional was a bit harder. Schindler was broke, in fact, because he invested all his money in business that did not pan out. So what did he do?
He convinced a jew bookkeeper called Itzhak Stern to talk to the other important and wealthy jews, to give him their money. Forced by the social context and by the fact that Hitler’s people were taking everything from them, the jews accepted this trade in exchange of other goods that they could give in the Ghetto / concentration camps for food and other denied products. In what became known as “Schindler’s Factory”, worked around 1000 - 1200 jews. Here, unlike all over Poland, they were treated nicely, no one was shot for “fun” and they even could say their traditional prayers. The factory flourished and money poured in large quantities.
Why is Schindler, who was a recognized member of the Nazy Party, so important to this story and why did I choose to speak about him? Well, soon enough you will understand. Just go along with me, a little longer. Returning to the our main subject.
Now, Schindler was rich and he loved to show that, he held memorable parties for the important german authorities, giving them all they wanted from money to beautiful women. This was his subtile way of making sure that they will suport him and his factory. Untill now, there seems to be nothing impressive about this character. We have the portret of a german, who profiting from the war exploited the jews to get material benefits. Yes, this happened, but the diference was that Schindler treated them like human beings, not like “garbage”. He was really fond of his workers and considered every person from the factory as an “indispensable force labour”. So, when the germans wanted to kill small kids or old men that worked at his factory, Schindler would argue that they should not touch his workers for they were “indispensable” for the working process.
Moreover, after witnessing the Ghetto Masacre in 1943, when the german army was supposed to “clean” that part of the city, he started to protect his "Schindlerjuden" - "Schindler's Jews", as they came to be recognized. The jews saw his factory as a “heaven”, as a place “were good and God were still present”. Taking advantage of the status of the factory “essential to war efforts”, Schindler always pleaded for his endangered jews and having charm and money managed to save them from deportation and from being killed.
We are in the year 1944. Germany is losing her military advantage, the former allies, the Russian have turned against them. The orders from the main commander center are clear, exterminate as many jews as possible, empty / destroy the concentration camps, close the factories, thus not leaving behind any kind of prove of what happened.
Having high level connections, Schindler is warned by a german officer of these orders. His jews were about to be killed. He could not allow this. He gains another factory in Brunnlitz, in the German-speaking Sudetenland and convinces the SS officials to let him move his 1200 jew workers there. Some say that Schindler actually paid money for every worker he managed to save. In Brunnlitz, the main activity of the factory was the production of war projectiles, but survivors of that era claim that the factory never made armament that could be used in the war. They said that the workers made bad projectiles on purpose. The truth around this issue has not, yet been cleared.
1945. The end of the war is announced. The jews were free and Schindler becomes the enemy, due to his Nazy membership. He had to run away, he fled to Austria’s U.S. zone. In memory of he had done for the them, the jews gave him a letter in which they explained how Schindler helped and saved them. This letter was signed by every worker.
Now, taking into account all we know about the Second World War, the persecution of the jews, the horrible deeds done, the killings and so on, we can see what is means to be ahead of time. It takes a special person to go against your own nation, to disobey the orders of the “Great Fuhrer”, to risk your own life for the lives of people you do not know and do not have any connections with. Being ahead of time involves, also the idea of compassion, of doing what is right with all costs, of standing up against evil and fighting.
Today, Schindler is buried in Jerusalem, for as he said in life “my children are here”. If you want to know more about him, you must read the book " The Book of the Just" by Eric Silver, the novel "Schindler's Ark" by Thomas Michael Keneally and watch the seven time Oscar winner movie "Schindler's List" and, last by not least go to the place it all started the factory, itself, in Krakow.
How to get there? Easy, just check online for train tickets, they are the cheapest (25 zloti with student discount), book a ticket, definitely have a map and some friends and...enjoy!
(Pictures made by my dear friend, Giorgiana Astefanei)
Schindler's Museum : very interactive and interesting!
An original way and very easy way to get to the museum (I know a lot of people complain it is difficult to find) is to take the train from the main station (Krakow Glowny) and get back in Zablocie, the first stop. It takes exactly four minutes! As soon as you go down the stairs of the station you turn left and you are arrived to your destination! J Other ways are bus or tram, plenty going to this direction, you will just need to walk five minutes to get there. Just ask where it is located to local people as it is not so easy to find and poorly indicated..
Once you arrive in front the building you might recognize a scene of the famous movie that is happening in front. Lower your expectations if you are a fan of the movie and are ready to get a kind of exposition on Schindler, this is not really the case. Only few rooms of this giant museum actually refer to Oskar Schindler himself. The main theme is rather about the Polish Resistance during the Nazi occupation.
I think Polish have a sort of gift to make museums both very cultural and interesting places but also very entertaining and interactive. This museum is a perfect illustration where you can touch, observe but also feel and reflect (there is towards the end of the visit a room where you will be working on a very soft ground and this is subject to a lot of different interpretations, which is nice to debate after the visit in front of a beer in the near-by Kazimierz (jewish District) with your Erasmus buddies J
I spent 2h 30 minutes in the place and I felt like it had been 30 minutes when it was time to exit. This is really a great “experimental museum” and you should leave having a much broader understanding of the situation in Poland after World War I and of the nazi occupation.
I waited my second year in Krakow to visit it with friends visiting and I might just give it another go at the next visit. Very informative and interactive to sum up all!