Krakow is such a fascinating place, it is filled with iconic buildings that are sadly coated in so much misery and painful history, but make for an incredible city to visit. The culture that oozes out of every building, as if words were not enough to tell stories, you relive everything as soon as you enter a building. Schindler’s Factory and the Gestapo Houses did just that, invite you in to overwhelm you with the reality of the happenings in these places.
First of all, let me commend Schindler’s Factory for its mesmerising use of installations to create a path through the factory and make the museum as immersive as possible. Second of all, it is THE Schindler Factory, the enamel factory that without intending to saved so many lives. I find Oskar Schindler’s story really interesting, because he was just a German business man who bought a factory to make some money, and due to his moral compass and disagreeing with everything that was happening, saved countless lives. He did not agree with the politics and simply did what he could to help, from offering better quality meals, opening his own ‘camp’ behind the factory for his workers to live in and dismissing his workers before the Gestapo found themselves in the factory to call those names for extermination. He was in every way a hero and the museum not only gives you a huge insight to his life, the work at the factory and everything that was done there for the Jews and the Polish, but also pays reference and contextualises the entire setting by rebuilding the Jewish ghetto inside amongst so many other things.
You will find video accounts, diary entries, quotes from survivors and quotes from people who have since passed, it is so incredibly immersive and it consumes you to be inside. It is chilling and in my opinion made me relive the entire history of Krakow and WWII almost more than the tour around Auschwitz. With Auschwitz you are almost alienated from the situation because you have a tour guide who is speaking to you at all times, you have to be in and out of a barrack within a certain amount of time, and yes, even though seeing it is awful and realising the conditions that people lived in is truly horrific, at the factory you walk alone. You take it all in on your own, you watch the video and audio accounts and feel as if you are being spoken to, you walk the entire space feeling like you’ve basically been in a time lapse and relived Krakow during WWII. It is so well built and almost intimidating in how upfront it is about the horrors that took place in the beautiful city and its surroundings during the time. Schindler’s factory is one of my top picks for you to visit in terms of museums, truly one of my favourites and I have been to quite a few!
I also really recommend visiting the Gestapo Cells. It is in the total opposite side of the city, North West of the central gardens, and although it is small, very much like the factory it makes use of its space to share the histories with visitors in as much detail as possible. Ulica Pomorska, where the cells are situated, is very easy to find, although the cells are extremely inconspicuous. Hidden behind a building, you walk through a path which features a wall with photos of almost everyone who was imprisoned here. You start by visiting a small museum which includes a lot of first person accounts of what happened there, from quotes, videos, audio recordings and items that belonged to individuals. Once you are finished reading all the histories you are guided to a secluded part of the building, a cellar almost. The cells.
I only have the photo below of the cells, of a quote carved onto the walls by one of the prisoners translated into English. Very much like Auschwitz it was all too real, too palpable. The space was so small, the markings on the walls that shouted desperation, the blood stains and the awful things that happened here. Days without food, or water or electricity, people were left alone to drive themselves insane, then above are a set of pipes that sometimes released gases such as tear gas, choking gas, smoke… anything that would make the prisoners suffer even more than they already were was present. Prisoners of war, Jewish people and Polish were all subject to this ill treatment, sometimes even if they did nothing to provoke it.
These are two sites I definitely recommend if you are at all interested in history or simply want to pay respect to those who lived and suffered through WWII in this area. It is touching, horrible, makes your skin crawl and feel sick with desperation for those who had to endure this, but these places are an ode to the incredible survivors that these people are. I have a lot of love for Poland and the pain it had to go through but it is a truly majestic place and beautiful country, and I cannot wait to explore more of it in the future. I hope you will take the time to explore it too.
Happy reading, writing and travelling.
Some personal accounts at Schindler’s factory of what happened at that time: