Schindler’s factory may be named Czech cultural heritage site

Anything to save? Site where Nazi industrialist turned humanitarian Oskar Schindler moved Jewish workers on his ‘list’ in a terrible state

Brian Kenety 6.3.2012

The former Vitka textile factory is now in the hands of an Olomouc firm keen to restore it and honor the memory of Oskar Schindler and the Jewish workers on his famous ‘List’ foto: © ČTKČeská pozice

The former Vitka textile factory is now in the hands of an Olomouc firm keen to restore it and honor the memory of Oskar Schindler and the Jewish workers on his famous ‘List’

A crumbling factory in the eastern Bohemia— immortalized in Steven Speilberg’s 1993 film “Schindler’s List” as the place that led to the ultimate salvation of some 1,200 refugees from the Holocaust – is set to become a Czech cultural heritage site. But time is running short to save it.

The factory lies in the town of Brněnec, not far from where Oskar Schindler was raised, back when it was deep within the Sudeten German region of Czechoslovakia (and known by the locals as Brünnlitz). Before to the Second World War broke out, the factory was owned by the Jewish Loew-Beer family.

And it was there that Schindler, a Nazi industrialist and opportunist-turned-humanitarian, moved his workers — those who made his now famous list. He was awarded the “Righteous among the Nations” honorific by Israel for putting his own life at risk to save Jews from Hitler’s death camps.

The Germans planned to produce hand grenades and parts for the V2 rockets it unleashed with such great devastation on London and other cities. According to the City Museum and Gallery of Svitavy, not far from Brněnec, it remains an open as to “what was manufactured at the camp of Brněnec — probably parts of anti-aircraft cartridges, but some rumors said that Schindler bought the products on the black market to resell as his own.”

“The Brněnec camp could hardly be considered a paradise. What is beyond doubt is that Schindler and a group of confident prisoners tried to make life more bearable forthe Jews,” the city museum says in an online presentation of the exhibition.

According to Czech media reports, the Culture Ministry has launched proceedings to name it a cultural heritage site, but these talks might last for several months. Meanwhile, much of the site is beyond repair, with buildings dilapidated or already having been pulled down, the daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Monday.

Tomáš Janů from the Olomouc-based company Blue Fields, which took over the site from a bankrupt textile manufacturer, had told the news server back in June 2011 he wanted to make it a museum — but said funding was not yet forthcoming. (Since then, the company suspended planned extensive demolition of surrounding buildings upon finding hazardous materials in the complex, the newspaper said.)

In fact, the effort to preserve the factory goes back much further. Nearly 10 years ago the Brněnec municipality decided to create a museum at the site of Schinlder’s last factory — complete with guard watchtowers and barbed wire that surrounded the site during the war — and to rebuild the barracks that housed the forced laborers.

At the time, the textile company Vitka wasn’t interested in cooperating on such a project. Complicating matters now is the factory’s “dubious” ownership, Mladá fronta Dnes said, with extracts from the land registry showing court orders freezing the transfer of property there.