Eurotrip – Krakow, 15 October 2013

A deliberately quiet day today. We bus across the river to the working class district of Podgórze to visit the Oskar Schindler factory, which has been turned into a museum documenting the German occupation of Krakow in World War Two. It’s an incredibly well-put together museum, with every detail designed to emphasise different stages in Krakow’s journey, from a free city preparing for war, to one under occupation, and ultimately to ‘liberation’ – ironically, the very last item in the museum is a portrait of Stalin, emphasising that Krakow’s troubles were far from over once the Nazis were defeated.

Meanwhile the rooms are set up to emphasise the themes – the rooms covering the early stages of occupation have swastika tiles on the floor – those detailing life in the Jewish ghetto are darkened, with rough floors; those that cover the concentration camp near Krakow have even rougher floors. There are films with eyewitnesses recalling the occupation, interactive touch screens with more information, and plenty of actual artifacts, including a Polish scout tank.

Rightly, the museum spends a lot of time covering the situation of Krakow’s Jewish population and also the work of Schindler in saving some of them. It doesn’t gloss over anything – Schindler was a Nazi spy after all (I’m not sure whether this comes out in the book, or the film, I’m not familiar with them). Equally, while some Poles are shown as resistance heroes, or others as risking their lives to help Jews, others are clearly portrayed as collaborators, or enjoying bullying and tormenting Jews.

Most moving of all is the final room, which in multiple languages shows quotes from people who lived through the occupation – mostly about their own failings – one who had intended to share food with a friend, but was so hungry he ate it all; one who refused to carry a parcel to Warsaw, fearing it was resistance-related, and found out it was medicine for his friend’s sick mother; one who could have hid a (Jewish, I guess) child, but froze, and saw the child taken away by the Nazis…..very moving.

We also visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, little of which appealed to me unfortunately, and which had some fairly sexist labelling.

In the evening England played Poland at football, I found a pub in the centre of town, so it was fairly touristy, although most people there were Poles. The atmosphere was good and friendly, with the Poles happy to congratulate the English after their win (although there was some gentle mockery of much of the English play, and one guy screaming abuse at Frank Lampard). I was congratulated as well, when I explained that I was from NZ the Polish guy half-hugged me and said “good lad!”.

About simonchamberlain

New Zealand librarian and music fan, living in London.
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