In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart.
As Anne Frank was writing this line in her diary, far away in Krakow, Oskar Schindler was saving Jews risking his own life.
‘Krakow is Oskar Schindler,’ I blurted as we walked inside the Schindler’s Factory Museum- the factory where Schindler saved the lives of over a thousand people.
‘Oskar Schindler does not represent Krakow,’ Vinod disagreed to my exaggerated statement.
‘But this is where he showed how a human can evolve from an ordinary man to a savior. To me, he was the true essence of humanity,’ I retorted back.
‘Krakow is still beyond Schindler,’ Vinod replied, “Krakow is a story of every stage of what life can be during war – uncertainties, fear, resistance, rescuer, perpetrator and bystander.’
We were visiting an exhibition titled ‘Krakow under Nazi occupation Factor, 1939-1945’. Each exhibition room was meticulously arranged to resemble a very specific place – a street, a hairdresser’s salon, a labor camp, a railway station and so on depending upon the timeline. The journey began in a room that showed how life was between 1918-1939.
A placard read,
‘After Poland gained independence after the World War I, Krakow continued to be a cultural capital of Europe…..the country had gained independence after 123 years of bondage. The city was developing rapidly and planning to enter the 1940s with bold plans……Then the war broke out.
Our mood was gloomy by then.
We then passed a dark corridor that was designed to exhibit how streets of Krakow looked as Nazis entered the city in the year 1939.
The narrow corridor had Nazi flags and the walls were filled with Nazi pamphlets and leaflets.
‘The creator had done such a great job in making us feel what Nazi invasion meant for people of Krakow. I feel scared just looking at those flags, particularly the Swastika sign. Do you feel it too?‘ I asked.
‘Yes, it’s an eerie feeling.’
‘Can you imagine how life turned upside down for the Jewish people at this time?‘
‘For the Poles too,’ Vinod said in his stern voice staring at a placard on the wall. It read,
If I had to put up a poster for every seven Poles shot, the forests in Poland would not be sufficient to manufacture the paper.
We then walked to the next corridor that exhibited the sad story of Jews by taking us through a narrow corridor resembling the walls of the ghetto. A placard read,
They shaped the wall like tombstones.
By this time, Vinod was deeply disturbed looking at some of the mannequins showing how hundreds of strangers lived together in an over-crowded room in the ghetto. I stood alone for a few minutes thinking and imagining the lives of the people in the ghetto.
‘If I were compelled to give away my degree, my job, my bank account, and live like this, would I survive?’ I thought.
Suddenly I heard Vinod’s voice, ‘Check out his office, your hero’s office.’
That was Oskar Schindler’s office. I could not believe I was standing in the same office that was once visited by Oskar Schindler. To me, he is an epitome of magnanimity, my hero since I first watched the movie Schindler’s List.
‘He could have risked his own life by helping Jews,’ Vinod remarked.
Vinod was right. That’s why Schindler’s story is fascinating. He was not a redeemer, if anything, he was a suave businessman leading a hedonistic life. What arose in him in that tragic situation probably surprised even him, but something reached deep into the darkness of his own emotion and pulled out a flaming outrage that made him go for this unlikely journey.
By the time we finished visiting multiple exhibition rooms that presented Krakow’s history in an almost tangible way, we were experiencing dramatic emotions shared by the city’s wartime residents.
Nonetheless, the strongest emotion was that of hope from Schindler’s story as it is so rightly said in the Schindler’s List movie,
He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world.
Friends, we recommend that you include ‘Schindler Factory Museum’ in your list while in Krakow. We have to give credit to the designers and creators for its artistic layout. This is beyond the framework of traditional museum exhibitions.