Because of my trips to Plaszow and Schindler’s Factory yesterday, I realized how many events occurred here in Krakow to the Jews during the German Occupation. I had seen Schindler’s List in my early teens but didn’t realize those events in the movie were in Krakow. So many of the pictures at the exhibit in Schindler’s Factory were pictures that I recognized from high school while studying the Holocaust, and those photos were taken here in this city. I must say this short trip to Krakow has made an impact. There is something about being in the actual spots where these events occurred that makes the past so real.
I had bought a book at the Schindler Factory called “Guide to Oskar Schindler’s Krakow”. It is a small book that described Krakow during the German Occupation. There was quite a bit written about the Jewish Ghetto in Podgorze. After reading about it last night, I decided to take out the bike again and return South across the river. I hadn’t realized yesterday (on my way to Plaszow) that I had ridden my bike through the Jewish Ghetto of 1941-43. Today, I wanted to stop and see all the spots I had read about in the book so I could visually see where these events occurred.
Short History of Podgorze
Before 1915, Podgorze was a separate town from Krakow. Most of the population was non-Jewish at the time, but there was enough of a Jewish community for several prayer houses and synagogues.
On 3 March 1941, a decree was issued declaring the creation of a closed Jewish district in Podgorze. By May 20, about 16,000Jews were resettled into the ghetto. The area of the ghetto contained roughly 320 buildings and had previously been occupied by less than 3,000 people. In April, construction began on the three meter high wall surrounding the ghetto.
After the liquidation of the ghetto in 1943, Poles whose homes were confiscated by the Germans were resettled there. The wall was removed, and the Jews were sent to Plaszow Camp.
Below is a map I created of the Jewish Ghetto in Podgorze. I couldn’t find one online that clearly marked buildings of significance so I decided to make one. Hopefully it will help others visualize where events occurred.
Below is a map of the Jewish Ghetto. I found this on a sign at Plac Zgody. I made the map above by using this map below.
My first stop in the old Jewish Ghetto was Plac Zgody. The squares modern name is Plac Bohaterow Getta or Ghetto Heroes Square.
Plac Zgody was the central meeting point inside the ghetto. It was the largest open space in the ghetto making it a place for socializing and relaxing, but it was also the site where families were separated due to the mass deportations that were organized here. After the war, the square was used as many things: marketplace, bus terminal, parking lot, and public toilet. After years of neglect, the square was renovated in 2005. A memorial to the victims of the Krakow Ghetto was put in place. Seventy large metal chairs have been equally spaced around the square, symbolizing departure and absence. The former bus terminal building has remained at the North end of the square.
The Jewish Combat Organization (Zydowskiej Organizacji Bojowej (ZOB)) had meetings at Plac Bohaterow Getta 6. There is a plaque in front of the building.
The Pharmacy Under the Eagle (Apteka Pod Orlem) was located at Plac Bohaterow Getta 18 and was the only pharmacy operating inside the ghetto. It is now a branch of the Krakow History Museum with exhibits about life in the ghetto.
The Ghetto Wall
After my stroll of old Plac Zgody, I headed South to check out the two Ghetto Wall fragments that remain — one between 25 and 29 Lwowska Street and one in the playground behind the building on 62 Limanowskiego Street. There were four entrances to the ghetto. The top of the wall is thought to be shaped like a series of matzevot (Jewish gravestones).
Buildings along Limanowskiego Street
While riding my bike along Limanowskiego Street, I was interested in how many of the buildings looked quite dilapidated. These are original buildings that have seen so much.
Jewish Mutual Aid Society
At Jozefinska 18, you can find Bank Pelcao. This is probably one of the prettiest buildings in the area. The building has a history of being a bank, but during the WWII, the Jewish Mutual Aid Society or Jewish Social Self-Help Organisation was housed here. It was here where the ‘selections’ deciding which Jews would be deported to death camps took place.
Former Zucker Synagogue
There were four prayer houses in the ghetto, all of them close to one another (3 on the same street). There was the Zucker Synagogue at Wegierska 5, Bnei Synagogue at Wegierska 6, Benzion Halberstam Synagogue at Wegierska 7, and Rabinacka Synagogue at Krakusa 7. Religious practice was outlawed during the war so the synagogues were converted in to other buildings. Zucker Synagogue was a warehouse, then a factory. The building wasn’t used much after the war. In 1996, the facade was restored and it has become on of the largest private art galleries in the area–Starmach Gallery.
Optima Factory and Madritsch Factory
I wanted to note the two factories that were inside the ghetto. I only knew of Schindler’s Factory so I was surprised that there were two other factories that used Jewish workers during WWII.
The Optima Factory on Wegierska Street was once a chocolate factory but during the war, it was used for the production of German military uniforms. The Jewish workers here were added to Schindler’s List and survived the war.
At 2 Rynek Podgorski was the Madritsch Factory. Julius Madritsch was a Viennese Austrian businessman who moved to Krakow to avoid being enlisted in the German Wehrmacht. He became trustee of two Jewish confectionery stores, but learned that there was more money in manufacturing textiles so he opened a sewing factory. Madritsch had a similar reputation as Schindler as being a good man who treated his Jewish workers well. Madritsch was able to get 60 of his Jewish workers on to Schindler’s List.
Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory (website)
Though I saw Schindler’s Factory yesterday, I thought it appropriate to write about it today since I am writing about Podgorze, where Schindler’s Factory lies.
In March 1937, the first enamelware and metal products in lesser Poland was established here in March 1937 by three Jewish entrepreneurs. The ownership of the company changed several times, and its financial situation was so bad that by June 1939, it applied for bankruptcy. Not long after the Nazis occupied Poland in Sept 1939, it is probable that Schindler took over the company. He leased the factory until 1942 when he became owner. At the beginning the factory made German kitchenware, but by 1941, the factory began to produce shell casings for bullets that were immediately bought by the German Army. The factory complex underwent a series of renovations during 1941-43. In 1939, the factory only had two main buildings; by 1941, an outpatient clinic, a kitchen for workers, a large office complex, and a metal gateway were added. By the end of that year, the factory expanded to include the munitions factory. Polish workers made up the work force until the formation of the Jewish Ghetto; Jews were much cheaper to hire. In March 1943, Schindler’s workers were relocated to Plaszow. They had to march to and from the camp everyday. Schindler therefore bought a parcel of land adjacent to the factory to build living quarters for the workers. This site became a subcamp of Plaszow. By the end of the year 1,000 jews lived and worked at the factory. In August 1944, Plaszow and its subcamps were becoming liquidated. The liquidation of the subcamp at the factory was sped up when an Allied Forces plane returning after supporting the Warsaw Uprising crashed in the camp. There is a plaque outside the museum commemorating the deceased crew. The inmates were then transferred to Plaszow camp, and forced to walk to and from work once again. Because of this, Schindler decided to transfer the armaments division, along with all his Jewish workers, to Brunnitz. The other portion of the factory continued to operate in Krakow using Polish workers until the city was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945.
From 1948-2002, the factory was the “Telpod” production plant of telecommunication elements. Most of the buildings were overhauled, except the entrance gate, the facade, and the sawtooth roofs of the production hall all remain the same.
In 2005, the factory became the property of the City of Krakow. After much debate, in 2007, the concept to divide the factory between two institutions prevailed — a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow. The branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow known as Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory is situated in the administrative building of the former factory; the museum aims to tell the tale of the city and its residents, its permanent exhibit focusing on Krakow Under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945.
I really wished that there was a separate exhibit all about Schindler and the factory. Schindler’s office was the only part of the exhibit that gave a short synopsis of Schindler and his Jewish workers. I left the museum wanting more information. I was hoping that there would be parts of the factory that one could see that were actually used by the workers.
The permanent exhibit in Schindler’s Factory was well done. It had a lot of information and was laid out nicely with a lot of interactive multimedia. It is definitely worth seeing!! Many of the photos in the exhibit were photos depicting the Holocaust that I have seen growing up, and it is sobering to have walked in the same streets where those photos were taken.
I really enjoyed my morning in Podgorze. It was extremely interesting because so many of the buildings that were standing during WWII, in the ghetto, are still here. I am really glad that I could see for myself where these events occurred. It gave me such a better understanding of these events along with the exhibit at Schindler’s Factory.