Where Schindler's List was filmed
Courtyard in Kazimierz
used for movie location
In 1993, when Stephen Spielberg made
a movie out of a novel called "Schindler's Ark," written
by Australian author Thomas Keneally, he needed an authentic
Jewish quarter for the scenes depicting the Jewish ghetto of
Podgorze in Krakow. He chose the Kazimierz district of Krakow
because this area had not changed since the 1940s, while Podgorze
had been partially rebuilt with modern buildings.
Schindler's List tells the story of how
Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German industrialist from the Sudetenland
in what is now the Czech Republic, saved 1098 Jews from the misery
of having to work at the Nazi forced labor camp at Plaszow, by
employing them in his factory in the Zablocie district of Krakow.
Schindler's factory became a sub-camp in the Nazi concentration
camp system; the Jewish prisoners lived in barracks which Schindler
built for them on the grounds of his factory. Instead of paying
wages to the Jews, Schindler paid less than normal wages to the
WVHA (SS Economic Office in Oranienburg) for their labor. Although
Schindler didn't mistreat his Jewish workers, he did profit from
their slave labor. Initially, he was motivated by the desire
for money, not by a desire to save the Jews.
The photo above shows the balconies in
the courtyard from where the suitcases were thrown down in the
scene in Spielberg's movie in which the Podgorze Ghetto is liquidated.
According to my tour guide, a courtyard such as this is typical
of the way living space was traditionally arranged in the old
Jewish quarters of Polish cities.
Since the fall of Communism in Poland
in 1989, Kazimierz has been revived as a Jewish community, and
it has also become a popular tourist attraction with special
tours of the places where the movie was filmed. In October 1998,
I took a guided tour of Kazimierz and shot some photographs of
the places where Schindler's List was filmed.
One of the most memorable passages in
the novel Schindler's List is the one where Mrs. Dresner hides
under a stairwell when the Nazis come to round up the Jews in
the Ghetto in June 1942 to take them to the Belzec extermination
camp. According to the book, after this roundup in which many
of the Jews escaped, the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB), a
group of resistance fighters, bombed the Cyganeria Restaurant
and killed 7 German SS soldiers. Next the SS-only Bagatella Cinema
was bombed in Krakow. In the next few months the ZOB sank German
patrol boats on the Vistula, fire-bombed German military garages
in Krakow and derailed a German army train, besides forging papers
and passports for Jews to pass as Aryans. In the movie, the date
of the scene where Mrs. Dresner hides has been changed to the
day of the liquidation of the ghetto on March 13, 1943.
The photograph below shows the stairway
used in the scene in which Mrs. Dresner hides from the Jewish
police who were helping the Germans to round up the Jews for
"transportation to the East," a euphemism for taking
them to the gas chambers.
Stairs where Mrs. Dresner
hid in Schindler's List
The guided tour that I took in 1998 was
called Schindler's Steps. From Krakow, the tour entered Kazimierz
on Jozefa street and the first thing we saw was the courtyard,
which links Jozefa street with Meiselsa street, and the stairwell
where the hiding scene in Schindler's List was filmed. Mrs. Dresner
hid under the stairwell, pictured above, after a neighbor allowed
her daughter, but not her, to hide behind a false wall in an
apartment. Mrs. Dresner was the aunt of Genia, the little girl
in red, in the movie.
In the movie, the Nazis went through
the Podgorze ghetto, room by room, and tore down walls as they
looked for Jews who were hiding. While they are searching for
Jews, a German soldier stops to play the piano. The Nazis loved
classical music and this is a reference to the Jewish saying
that the Nazis literally put down their violins in order to kill
the Jews. Germany was the most civilized and advanced country
in the world in the 1930s, which makes it all the harder to understand
how the Nazis could have planned the deliberate genocide of the
According to the novel, entitled "Schindler's
Ark," around 4,000 Jews were found hiding in Podgorze during
the liquidation of the ghetto and they were executed on the spot.
However, during the post war trial of Amon Goeth, the Commandant
of the Plazow camp, the charges against him mentioned that 2,000
Jews were killed during the liquidation of the Podgorze ghetto.
Those who managed to escape from the ghetto joined the partisans
of the Polish People's Army, who were hiding in the forests of
Niepolomice. Unlike the novel, the movie "Schindler's List"
does not mention the heroic Jewish resistance fighters, who managed
to escape from the Nazis, and lived to fight as partisans throughout
The Schindler's Steps guided tour, which
I took in October 1998, started in Krakow with Schindler's modern
apartment building at #7 Straszewskiego Street, from where Schindler
could look out his third floor windows and see the Planty, a
narrow park all the way around Old Town Krakow which marks the
area where the town walls once stood. This apartment, in a very
ordinary, ugly gray building, was given to Schindler by the Nazis
after it was taken, without compensation, from the Jewish Nussbaum
Straszewskiego Street ends at Wawel,
the limestone hill where the ancient royal palaces still stand;
during the German occupation of Poland, Hans Frank, the governor
of occupied Poland, which was called "the General Government,"
lived on Wawel hill in the Castle originally built by King Kazimierz
the Great, founder of the separate city of Kazimierz. Schindler's
apartment in Krakow was north of the Kazimierz district and north
of Wawel hill.
Street in Kazimierz
before the German occupation
The next stop was Schindler's Enameled
Pots and Pans Factory, on the south side of the river Vistula,
at #4 Lipowa Street. Lipowa Street goes through Podgorze, and
the factory is just east of the former ghetto and across the
Enamelware was apparently widely used
in Poland instead of pottery or china, judging by the large amounts
of enameled dishes, that were brought to the concentration camps
by the prisoners, which are now on display in the museums at
Auschwitz and Majdanek. Enamelware is the type of dishes that
Americans associate with the Old West when cowboys ate the beans
they cooked over the campfire on metal plates coated with mottled
gray enamel. The most popular color of enameled bowls, displayed
in the museums in Poland, is a dull brick red. Enameled pots
and pans, such as Schindler produced in his factory, were also
popular in American kitchens up until the 1960s.
Schindler obtained a contract with the
Germans to supply mess kits and field kitchen pots to the German
army. Schindler's Krakow factory produced armaments as well as
enamelware. The Enamelware part of the factory remained open
until 1945 with 300 Polish non-Jewish workers.
When the Plaszow camp closed, Schindler moved the munitions part
of his factory to Brünnlitz in what is now the Czech Republic.
The factory produced 45 mm anti-tank shells, but none of his
shells were ever used because Schindler deliberately set his
machines so that the calibration was incorrect, according to
the movie "Schindler's List." Other sources claim that
Schindler spent all the money that he made on his enamelware
business to purchase shells on the black market which he then
sold to the Nazis. By that time, his purpose was not to make
money, but to save his Jewish workers, and thereby save himself
from being indicted as a war criminal.
Thomas Keneally, the author of the novel
"Schindler's Ark," who is a native of Australia, mentioned
in the book that in 1944, an Australian plane was shot down by
the Germans over Schindler's factory; the plane was not trying
to bomb his munitions factory, but was dropping supplies to the
Jewish and Polish partisans in the forest east of Krakow, according
to the author.
Schindler's factory building was still
being used for an electronics factory when I visited Krakow in
1998 and I only saw it from the street. The factory is an ordinary
gray stucco three-story building with lots of windows, built
right next to the sidewalk. The architectural style of the building
is what Americans would call Art Deco; in Poland in the 1940s,
this style was called Modern. There is an iron gate at the entrance
to the factory courtyard where Schindler built barracks for his
workers. The factory was named Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrick (German
Enamelware Factory) and was called DEF for short.
Jewish workers at Schindler's
Oscar Schindler's factory has recently
been taken over by the Jewish Council in Krakow and the building
now has a sign outside, just like the original sign, which says
"Deutsche Emalia Fabrika - Oscar Schindler." The factory
is now included on the Schindler's Steps tour; visitors can see
the stairs that were used in the filming of the movie. Schindler's
original office is at the top of the stairs and visitors may
sit at his desk. The rest of the factory is off limits but visitors
can look around the grounds. The factory interior was not used
in the film, except for the stairs.
The photos below were contributed by
Richard Stephenson, who took the Schindler's Steps tour in December
The grounds of Oskar
Schindler's Factory in Krakow
Photo Credit: Richard
Stairs in the factory
were shown in Schindler's List
Photo Credit: Richard
Oskar Schindler's real
office was not shown in Schindler's List
Photo Credit: Richard
On my visit to Poland in 1998, I stayed
at the Hotel Cracovia in Krakow which is owned by Orbis Travel
Agency, the tour company that I used. Built in 1965, it is now
a first class, but inexpensive, hotel where tour groups from
all over Europe stay before visiting such places as Auschwitz,
which is due west of Krakow. Tours of Kazimierz and the site
of the Plaszow labor camp can be arranged from the hotel, as
well as private tours of the Auschwitz concentration camp.