Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory – the new branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków – is located in the post-industrial Zabłocie district of Kraków, at the administrative building of the former factory of enamelled vessels known as Oskar Schindler’s Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (DEF).
Before it became DEF’s property, the facility was used by the First Factory of Enamelled Vessels and Tin Items in the Małopolska Region called “Rekord” (Pierwsza Małopolska Fabryka Naczyń Emaliowanych i Wyrobów Blaszanych “Rekord”), established in March 1937. The notarial documents of the “Rekord” factory mention an administrative building which was originally located at 9 Romanowicza St. The company was established by three Jewish entrepreneurs: Michał Gutman from Będzin, Izrael Kohn from Kraków’s Kazimierz district, and Wolf Luzer Glajtman from Olkusz. The latter businessman had earlier worked at the Olkusz factory of enamelled vessels which was thirty years older than the “Rekord” factory itself. The three business partners leased the production floors topped with the characteristic gable roofs and purchased the building plot at 4 Lipowa St from the Factory of Wire, Netting and Iron Products (Fabryka Drutu i Siatek i Wyrobów Żelaznych SA) to locate their business there. They then built a number of factory facilities on that location to accommodate the stamping room (for the processing, preparation and pressing of metal sheets), the pickling room (for deacidification, degreasing and chemical cleaning of metal items in a hydrochlorid acid solution), and the enamelling room (for coating the vessels interchangeably in several layers of priming and base enamel). The next stage of the production process was to fire the vessels in the special enamel kilns in the temperature of 600–950oC. The vessels were then cooled down and moved to warehouses where they waited to be shipped.
The proprietors of the “Rekord” factory changed several times, and the company’s financial situation gradually declined. In June 1939, following a bankruptcy petition filed by the company’s owners, the Regional Court in Kraków declared its bankruptcy due to debt, and in October 1939 Dr Roland Goryczko, an advocate, became the company’s receiver.
The outbreak of World War Two and the entrance of German troops into Kraków on 6 September 1939 drastically changed the situation of the city and its residents. It was probably around that time that Oskar Schindler, an NSDAP member and an agent of the German military intelligence (Abwehr) arrived in the city. Immediately after his arrival he became a trustee of a Jewish kitchenware shop on Krakowska St, and by November 1939 he took over the bankrupt “Rekord” company located in the industrial Zabłocie district from the Trust Bureau of the General Government and became its receiver.
On 15 January 1940 Schindler signed a contract with the company’s administrative receiver, leasing the factory buildings at 4 Lipowa St and 9 Romanowicza St. He also bought the company’s ready-made and semi-finished products. His next step was to buy the property on Lipowa St, using the capital contribution of “Rekord’s” former shareholder Abraham Bankier and the proprietor of the shop on Krakowska St Samuel Wiener. At that point, Schindler changed the factory’s name to Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik – DEF, but it was not until 1942 that he became the legal owner of the company.
Having gained control over the factory, Schindler immediately commenced the plant’s expansion using the plans developed by “Rekord’s” former shareholders. This rapid investment was only possible thanks to the capital of Jewish entrepreneurs who received ready-made products in return, or became the new employees of the Enamel factory. Construction works began already in 1940. The first stage was to build the payroll office, the doctor’s and dentist’s surgeries and a small clinic, the kitchen, the cafeteria, the stables for the company’s horses, and the garages for the company’s vehicles. Over the next few years Schindler also built the shop floor which accommodated lathes, presses and the tool-room. In 1942 the stamping room was extended into a three-storeyed building which contained the pattern-shop, warehouses, social and administrative rooms, as well as the office and apartment of the factory’s owner. The entrance to the factory’s courtyard was accentuated by two imposing pillars and closed with an openwork metal gate. Further investments on the factory premises were the two steam boilers, the new stamping shop floor designed by the Siemens company and constructed in 1944, and the large fire protection water tank.
The company continued to produce enamelled vessels using the same technologies as those used by the pre-war manufacturers. A major novelty introduced by Schindler was the munitions department that manufactured mess tins for the Wehrmacht, cartridge cases and fuses for artillery shells and aerial bombs. Owing to its partial transformation into a munitions plant, the Enamel factory was able to survive. Working conditions were difficult; the most dangerous jobs included the handling of enamel kilns and the vats containing sulphuric acid.
At the beginning Poles constituted the majority of Schindler’s employees, however, they were soon outnumbered by Jewish employees recruited via the Labour Office operating in the Ghetto from March 1941 to March 1943. Most of the few Poles who remained in the company held administrative positions. The number of Jewish employees grew from over a hundred in 1940 to about 1,100 in 1944 (please note that this number also covered the staff of the three neighbouring factories who were put together in the subcamp built at the back of Schindler’s DEF company). During the existence of the Ghetto in the Podgórze district Jewish workers were escorted to the factory by members of the industrial protective service (Werkschutz), or by Ukrainians. Following the “liquidation” of the Ghetto in 1943, Kraków Jews who were not killed during the operation were moved to the labour camp in Płaszów. Schindler managed to obtain permission to establish a subcamp of the Płaszów camp on the lot adjacent to DEF which he had purchased especially for that purpose. The barracks built in the Zabłocie district accommodated the Jewish employees of the Enamel factory, as well as three other companies operating in that neighbourhood and manufacturing various products for the German army. The subcamp was fenced off by barbed wire and surrounded by watch towers. There was also an assembly yard situated in the central section, between the barracks. It had its own medical service, and medicines were provided by the Jewish Social Self-Help organization (Judische Unterstutzungstelle, JUS). The food was much better in Zabłocie than it was in the Płaszów camp, especially due to the close cooperation with the Poles who enabled contacts with the city. The factory’s production and the operation of the subcamp were subject to frequent inspections, and the commandant of the Płaszów camp Amon Goeth was a particularly frequent visitor here. However, thanks to Schindler’s efforts the inspections were not as oppressive for his company’s employees as they could have been under normal circumstances. It was only after the transformation of the Płaszów labour camp into a concentration camp in January 1944 that the inmates of the Zabłocie subcamp were covered by the permanent SS supervision. At the beginning Schindler’s staff worked a two-shift system and the workday lasted 12 hours; later on, a three-shift system was introduced, with 8 hours of work per day.
As the Eastern Front drew closer and closer, Germans started to liquidate their camps and prisons in the eastern part of the General Government. In the face of the impending danger, Oskar Schindler decided to evacuate his munitions factory and his entire staff to Brünnlitz in Bohemia where he rented a former textile factory. The Brünnlitz camp was a branch of Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp. About 1,200 Jewish prisoners continued to work there until 8 May 1945, which is when the camp was liberated by the Red Army.
Since Schindler had moved his company to Brünnlitz, the production at the factory at 4 Lipowa St in Kraków stopped. Two years after the end of World War Two the factory premises were nationalized. From 1948 to 2002 the factory facilities were used by the “Telpod” company manufacturing telecommunications sub-assemblies (Zakłady Wytwórcze Podzespołów Telekomunikacyjnych “Telpod”, later transformed into Telpod SA) and adapted to the needs of the production processes carried out by that company. The original architectural features which have been preserved intact included the entrance gate, the facade of the administrative building at 4 Lipowa St, and the gable roofs of the factory’s shop floors. In 2005 former DEF premises became the property of the City of Kraków. After many debates and heated discussions over the future of Oskar Schindler’s former factory participated by representatives of many circles and authorities, the decision was made in 2007 to divide the historic facilities between two cultural institutions. The former administrative building became the seat of a new branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków which has recently accomplished a project based on the idea of creating a permanent exhibition presenting the history of Kraków and its residents under Nazi German occupation (1939–1945), whereas the former factory shop floors will soon be rebuilt and transformed into a Museum of Modern Art, in accordance with the winning design presented by a team of Italian architects from the Claudio Nardi Architetto studio.