Krakow is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities. Once the centre of Poland’s cultural and political life, the entire town centre is today listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famed for its beauty and elegance. However, on the other side of the Wisla river, is a different Krakow, the industrial Krakow. It was here, in Zablocie the industrial Krakow, where three Jewish entrepreneurs – Michal Gutman, Izrael Kahn and Wolf Luzer – set up an enamel factory in 1937.
The factory, originally known as the Fabryka Naczyn Emaliowanych i Wyrobow Blaszanych, produced predominately metal cooking utensils and other formed metal products. 1,750 workers were employed at the factory, 1,000 of whom were Jewish and lived in the nearby Jewish Ghetto. However, from the get-go the factory suffered from financial problems and in June of 1939, the company declared itself insolvent, just two years after it originally started production.
Three months later, Germany invaded Poland and World War Two began. Nazi troops arrived in Krakow on the 6th of September, followed by Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist and Nazi party member, who arrived the following month to work as a spy for the German intelligence service.
While in Krakow, Schindler was propositioned with the opportunity to buy the bankrupt enamel business, something he was keen to do. And so, just after a month after arriving in the city, on the 13th of November, 1939, Schindler signed an agreement that made him the owner of the enamel factory. By the New Year everything had been finalised and Schindler had renamed the factory to the ‘Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik’, or the ‘German Enamelware Factory’.
Schindler started to restructure the company, replacing Polish workers with more Jewish workers, mainly for cost saving purposes. The company contained to produce cooking utensils which, because of Schindler’s contacts, were sold directly on to the German Army. The company also started to diversify, and before long was manufacturing ammunition shells and cartridge cases, which were also sold on to the German Army.
Originally Schindler had employed Jews because they were cheaper than local Polish labour, but as the war dragged on Schindler began to use the company as a way of shielding and protecting Jews from Nazi persecution and deportation. All Jews in Krakow working in industries not directly connected to the German war effort were ordered to leave, and were sent to concentration camps. Schindler’s Jewish workers were spared because they were producing munitions. Recognising this, Schindler employed more and more Jewish workers. By the end of the war, Schindler was effectively bankrupt having spent his fortune on goods for his Jewish workers. He never recovered finically and had to live on aid made by grateful Jewish donors.
In 1949, the enamel factory building was acquired and used by the telecommunications equipment manufacturing company, Krakowskie Zakłady Elektroniczne Unitra-Telpod. They remained there until 2002, before vacating and leaving the factory empty.
Finally, in 2010, the factory became a museum, dedicated to displaying what life was like in Krakow under Nazi occupation. The museum also celebrates Schindler’s legacy and commemorates the Jews of Krakow who did not survive the Nazi period. The museum’s website can be found here.