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Schindler's Factory

The former enamel factory is now a home to the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow. The museum presents life of the Jews in the 20th century. During World War 2 the factory’s owner – Oskar Schindler saved more than 1000 people from deportation to concentration camps. Schindler’s List – a famous Steven Spielberg’s movie is based on this story.


The factory before World War 2

Before the enamelware factory known as Oskar Schindler's Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (DEF), the First Factory of Enamelware and Tin Products of Lesser Poland "Record" established in March 1937 opened in the buildings at Lipowa 4. The notarial documents show the address of the factory administration building at 9 Romanowicza street. It was founded by three Jewish entrepreneurs: Michał Gutman from Będzin, Izrael Kohn from Kazimierz district in Krakow and Wolf Luzer Glajtman from Olkusz. The latter previously worked in the Olkusz enamelware factory. The partners leased production halls with characteristic gable roofs and purchased a plot of land at 4 Lipowa street. Then, many buildings were erected in this area, which included: a die-cutting shop (for processing, preparing and pressing sheets), a stain shop (a deacidification shop for bathing dishes in hydrochloric acid solutions to degrease and clean objects), an enamel shop (in which enamel layers were applied first priming, then covering and priming again in several layers). After applying subsequent layers of enamel, the pots were fired in special enamel furnaces at a temperature of 600-950 Celsius degrees. Then, the pots were cooled and moved to warehouses, from where they were sold. The company underwent several ownership transformations, and its financial situation was gradually deteriorating. In June 1939, the company filed for bankruptcy, which was officially announced by the District Court in Krakow. In October 1939, Dr. Roland Goryczko, attorney-at-law was appointed a receiver in bankruptcy.  


Oskar Schindler's Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (DEF)

The outbreak of World War 2 and the entry of German troops into Krakow on September 6th 1939 radically changed the situation of the city and its inhabitants. Probably these days, Oskar Schindler, a member of the NSDAP and an agent of the German military intelligence - the Abwehr, also came here. Initially, he became a trustee of the Jewish kitchenware shop at Krakowska street, and in November 1939 took over the trusteeship of the "Rekord" company in Zabłocie, which was in bankruptcy. On January 15, 1940, on the basis of an agreement with the receiver, Schindler leased factory buildings at 4 Lipowa street and 9 Romanowicza street. He also purchased finished and semi-finished products. Then, using the capital contribution of the former shareholder of "Rekord", Abraham Bankier, and the owner of the shop at Krakowska street, Samuel Wiener, he purchased a plot of land at Lipowa street. At that time, he changed the name of the factory, which from then on was officially named Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik - DEF. Schindler did not become the legal owner of the company until 1942. Shortly after taking over the factory, Schindler started to expand it according to the plans prepared by the former shareholders of "Rekord". Such an investment was possible thanks to the capital of Jewish entrepreneurs, who in return received goods or employment in the factory. Work began in 1940 with the creation of a payroll office, medical and dental office, infirmary, kitchen, canteen, horse stables and car garages. In the following years, a factory hall was built for lathes, stamping mills, sheet presses and a tool shop. In 1942, the die-cutting hall was extended, creating a three-story building housing a pattern room, warehouses, social and administrative facilities along with Schinder's office and rooms. Two more steam furnaces were added to the plant, and in 1944 a new die-cutting hall designed by the Siemens and a large fire tank. Initially, the plant produced enameled vessels for the civilians. Around 8 percent of the products were sold or exchanged by intermediaries on the black market. In order to make the factory able to survive, Schindler launched an armaments production department - canteens for the Wehrmacht, casings and fuses for artillery and air missiles. From 1941 the factory functioned as ordnance plant (Rüstungsbetrieb), thus gaining the status of a facility essential for the Third Reich. 

Jews in Schindler's Factory

Initially, Poles predominated among the employed workers. Year by year, the number of Jewish workers recruited through the ghetto wage office increased. Schindler in this respect was initially driven by economic reasons - employing Jews significantly decreased the costs of recruitment, as they did not receive any compensation. For each Jewish worker, the factory director paid a small fee to SS - 4 zlotys per day for a working woman and 5 zlotys per day for a working man. The Poles remained employed mainly in administrative positions. The number of Jewish workers increased from over 150 in 1940 to around 1100 in 1944 (this is the sum of workers from three nearby factories, barracked in the sub-camp at DEF). From the very beginning of the factory's operation, Schindler used part of its profits to provide food for its Jewish workers. The working conditions were difficult, especially at the stands at enamel furnaces and at ladles with sulfuric acid, with which the workers (predominantly women) had direct contact. Other difficulties included low temperatures in the winter, as well as lice epidemics, which caused mainly dysentery, but also typhus. On the other hand, workers at Schindler's factory received bigger food portions than in other factories based on forced labor, and in many cases, they could take advantage of medical care. 

During the existence of the ghetto in Podgorze, Jewish workers were led to the factory under the escort of industrial guards (Werkschutzs) or Ukrainians. When in 1943 the ghetto was liquidated, Krakow Jews who escaped death at that time were transferred to the Plaszow labor camp. Schindler then applied for a permit to establish a sub-camp of the Płaszow camp on the premises of his factory. He argued that his employees had to walk more than ten kilometers from the camp to the factory every day. Bringing them to the factory would increase its efficiency. His arguments as well as bribes made his plan come to life. In barracks in Zabłocie, employees of DEF and three neighboring companies producing for the needs of the German army were accommodated. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire, watchtowers were built, and an assembly square was situated between the barracks. Medical service was established for the sub-camp, medicines were provided by the Jewish Social Self-Help (JUS). The nutritional conditions were much better than in the Płaszów camp, especially due to the cooperation with Polish employees - they contacted people in the city, brought letters and food to the Jewish workers. The production in the factory and the camp was controlled, and Amon Goeth, the commandant of the Płaszów camp, was often a guest here. Thanks to Schindler's efforts, the inspections were not so burdensome for the plant employees. It was only after the Płaszów camp was transformed into a concentration camp in January 1944 that the prisoners from Zabłocie were subject to permanent SS control. The work initially lasted 12 hours in a two-shift system, then 8 hours in a three-shift system. In August 1944 a selection took place at Lipowa 4. Around 700 men and 160 women were qualified as incapable of work and sent back to Plaszow camp. Some of them were almost immediately transported to concentration camps in Stutthof and Mauthausen. As the eastern front approached Krakow, the Germans began to liquidate the camps and prisons in the east of the General Government. It was then that Oskar Schindler decided to evacuate the factory with its employees to Brünnlitz in the Czech Republic. Again, numerous bribes and his power of persuasion made him succeed. He placed the plant in a former textile factory. The Brünnlitz camp was a branch of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. One of Schindler's assistants drew several versions of a list of up to 1,200 Jewish prisoners essential for work in the new factory. These lists came to be known as “Schindler's List.” About 1200 prisoners worked there until May 8, 1945, when the Red Army liberated them.


Factory at Lipowa 4 after World War 2

Due to the transfer of production to Brünnlitz, production at the plant at 4 Lipowa street had stopped. Two years after the end of World War 2, the factory buildings were nationalized. In the years 1948–2002, a company "Telpod", later "Telpod SA", operated here. At that time, the factory was remodelled to meet the needs of the production carried out there. The characteristic entrance gate, the facade of the building and gable roofs in factory halls remained unchanged. In 2005, the site of the former plant became the property of the city of Krakow. After numerous discussions and debates regarding the purpose of the site of the former Oskar Schindler factory, in 2007 the concept of its division between two cultural institutions was adopted. In the administrative building, a project developed by the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow was implemented, assuming the creation of an exhibition about the history of the city and its inhabitants during the German occupation (1939–1945). The post-factory halls have been allocated to the Museum of Contemporary Art.


Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler was born on April 28, 1908 in Svitavy (Zwittau) in the Moravia region, which at that time was the province of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (today's Czech Rebublic). A Catholic and German native, he remained in Svitavy in the interwar period and had Czech citizenship after Moravia was incorporated into the newly established Czechoslovak Republic in 1918. After attending a number of vocational schools in Brno and marrying Emilie Pelzl, a daughter of a wealthy farmer, at the age of 20, Schindler worked in various jobs including his father's agricultural enterprise in Svitavy, he also worked as a sales representative at one of the plants in Brno. He also served in the Czechoslovak army, and in 1938 obtained the rank of reserve corporal. Schindler began working with the Abwehr (Bureau of Military Foreign Intelligence) of the German armed forces in 1936. In February 1939, five months after the annexation of the Sudetenland by Germany, he joined the Nazi party. Thanks to his wide social connections with high-ranking German representatives in the General Government, he could acquire new orders for DEF and avoid excessive inspections of the factory. DEF generated income mainly from production for the army, but also benefited from the sale on the black market, for which Schindler was arrested several times. 

Before the liberation of the Brünnlitz camp, the Jewish workers gave Schindler and his wife a letter informing about his heroic activity, thanks to which he would avoid arrest after the war. He maintained contacts with the rescued Jews, who provided him with financial aid individually and through Jewish organizations. Thanks to this support, he left for Argentina, where he ran a farm, which, however, soon went bankrupt. After some time he returned to Germany, where he settled permanently. Shortly after his fifty-fourth birthday in 1962, Schindler was officially declared a Righteous Among the Nations and was invited to plant a tree on the Avenue of the Righteous leading up to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Museum. He died in 1974 and was buried, according to his will, in the Catholic cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Thanks to Oskar Schindler, more than six thousand Holocaust survivors and their descendants were alive in the 1990s to tell the remarkable story of the Schindler's List.



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