by Natalie Mango
It is difficult to judge the value of a museum while walking through it and while caught up in the exhibitions. Without prior knowledge of the information it presents, it is easy to disregard any bias or limitations that may have an effect on what is displayed. While some museums contain information that is highly influenced by one point of view, others remain as close to the facts as possible. The Schindler Factory Museum is of great value to historical scientists, students of history and those interested in understanding history, as it allows visitors to experience information with exhibitions that simulate several aspects of Nazi-occupied Poland and the majority of the information is drawn from primary sources. The rooms that depict the Ghettoization of Poles of Jewish heritage provide information from a third-person perspective as well as quotes from people who experienced it and photos of the ghetto. In addition, the rooms are laid out in a way that encourages visitors to sense a bit of what the ghetto was like, and the exhibition is valuable.
The entire museum appeals to many of the five senses and creates an atmosphere that allows visitors to get a sense of what the period was like for all Poles in Nazi-occupied Poland. The ghetto exhibition is powerful as it’s constructed to resemble the ghetto in Krakow, and is bordered by the ghetto walls in the shapes of tombstones. In addition, the rooms are dark and the walkways narrow, and this creates a sense of anxiety and sadness, and reflects a small part of what the people forced to live in it might have felt. There is also a room that imitates the conditions of a ghetto, and is filled with furniture and personal items and crowded with people. In this room, sound is also used to increase the quality of the experience for visitors, and a recording of people talking and continuing their daily routines in a small space is played in the background. It conveys the stress, crowding, struggle to survive, and lack of privacy of the inhabitants of the ghetto. There are also many items in the room that are an indication of what the Jews brought with them into the ghetto, including practical things like pots and pans, clothes and valuables; the things necessary to continue living life.
Not only are the rooms themselves powerful, but the order in which they are placed in relation to other exhibitions in the museum is beneficial in understanding how the ghettos came about and what happened to them. Before the ghetto, there are scenes of Nazi-occupied Poland and what life was like outside the ghettos, or before Jews were forced into them. It shows the gradual decrease in condition of the treatment of Poles, especially of Jewish heritage, during the German occupation. The order of the rooms follows the chronology of the war and shows how Ghettoization was the next step in the process. Also, the darkness of the ghetto is a large contrast to the other sections of the museum, which could represent the difference in living conditions and moral of the people inside and outside the ghetto. Like other parts of the museum, the Ghettoization exhibition only lasts for a few rooms, which could represent that the ghetto was temporary and how it began from increased repression and discrimination in occupied Poland and was followed by concentration camps.
The information the museum presents is also very effective, and while some of it is general and gives visitors a broad idea of what the ghettos involved, there are quotes from people who experienced the ghetto and short pieces of information spread throughout the exhibit that are informative and shocking. A lot of the information comes directly from primary sources, in the form of first-hand accounts and photographs, which are quite accurate. One piece of information that was surprised me was a quote from a young Jewish girl who lived in the ghetto. It discussed how she was happy that her job that wasn’t dangerous like making brushes, which involved sharp pieces of metal that could cut her fingers. It is an accurate account of what life was like in the ghetto and while it does not explicitly say that the conditions were poor and people had to struggle to survive, it does displayed these. The girl’s positive attitude towards hard work as long as it wasn’t dangerous, showed that even young girls struggled to survive, and how many Jews accepted the harsh conditions of the ghettos.
A fact that I thought was almost unbelievable was that the rations for people in the ghetto were around 500 calories each day, when the recommended amount for a person is almost 2,000 a day. It is another example of the poor condition inside the ghetto and of the abuse of human rights. It was astonishing to find out exactly how bad life inside the ghettos was; I had not realized how severe the restrictions were, and that the starvation of the Jews began before the concentration camps. The absence of food and the need to work also limited the daily routines of the Jews imprisoned in the ghettos. They were not free to leave the ghetto, and most of their time was spent working, this made it difficult to celebrate or practice regular religion and culture, and made life a struggle.
Further quotes about the conditions in the ghetto that expressed the situation well include the mention of a train that passed through it. The Jews were not allowed to get on it; however, occasionally some non-Jewish poles resisted and threw bread out the windows, a dangerous effort to resist the ghetto system by non-Jews. Also, there is a quote that talked about the division of the ghetto into two ghettos, one occupied by people that could work and the other by people unsuitable for labor. The person observed that the ghetto was beginning to be evacuated and wondered what was going to happen next. This had a large significance as it shows the Jews did not expect the liquidation of the ghettos and the further violation of their rights in concentration camps.
The museum has many strengths including the sources of the information and the engaging manner in which it was presented. A short-coming of the museum might have been that since it was so powerful, it was at times difficult to take in all of the information presented, in each of the different exhibits as there were many aspects to consider. This might however, not be a short-coming, but a reason to spend more time at the museum to get a more complete idea of Poland during the Nazi occupation. One limitation of the museum might be that it did not include a German perspective of some of the events, as it would have been interesting to contrast the Nazi ideas of the ghetto to the Jewish opinions, however, these quotes might be difficult to find and fit into the exhibit. Also, the museum focused on Poland during the war, and if a person wanted a comprehensive idea of World War Two, they would need more information. It is possible, that it is better to come to the museum with an understanding of what happened during the war in Poland in relation to other European countries. However, the war in Poland was the focus of the museum, so in that sense, it is not a limitation. The information may have a bias as the museum is in Poland, and the Poles may have a certain perspective on the war in their country. However, the fact that it is in Poland also adds to its credibility as the people who made it were able to observe the real ghetto in Krakow and other places where important events occurred. They can still see some of the impacts of the war in Poland, and the memorials to the victims of the Holocaust. In all, the museum was not only of great factual value to those interested in the history of Poland during World War Two, it allowed visitors to experience the occupation and shocked them with first –hand accounts and details of the war.