The factory and housing complex where Oskar Schindler is credited with saving more than 1,000 Jews today lies abandoned, a hulking semi-ruin in the small Czech town of Brnenec, about a two-hour drive from Prague.
The Shoah and Oskar Schindler Memorial Endowment Foundation, which own the complex, want to to spend almost $5 million to turn the site into a museum to honor the German industrialist, who rose to Hollywood fame for his heroic actions. But some Czechs disagree with lionizing Schindler and claim the story is mostly a self-aggrandizing fairy tale, The Guardian reported.
“I have found no evidence of Schindler saving prisoners. I’ve come to the conclusion he was only saving himself — mostly by writing a postwar synopsis of his alleged activities,” fumed Jitka Gruntova in a Guardian interview.
Schindler initially cooperated with the Nazis, but as the war intensified he experienced a change of heart. Schindler convinced authorities that his Krakow, Poland factory (now a museum), was necessary to the war effort and moved it to Brnenec, bringing his Jewish forced laborers with him and out of harm’s way as the Soviets advanced westward and Nazis killed Jews during their retreat.
He lied to and bribed Nazi authorities, keeping his workers safe until war’s end.
But he looms as a controversial figure in the Czech Republic due to his pre-war activities. His factory sits in a spot of the Czech Republic that proved contentious in the ‘30’s, the so called Sudetenland that Hitler annexed before the outbreak of World War II due to its high concentration of German speakers.
Born in the territory, Schindler served as a spy for the Nazis, helping push their expansionist aims. After the war, when the area came under Soviet control, the German population was expelled, leading people like Gruntova to see him as a traitor.
Other locals see it differently. Jaroslav Novak, a local backer of the museum, told the British paper that the factory is an important historical monument that might attract tourists to the site.
Nonetheless, he conceded, “people are just not interested in it.”
Tomas Kraus, a representative of the Czech Jewish community, struck a measured tone. He supports the museum, but acknowledges that Schindler was not purely a hero.
“It’s a very complex story,” he said to The Guardian. “Schindler was a perpetrator who later became a saviour and a hero. But he was not alone in that. There were others like him–he was only the most famous.”
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.