Now dilapidated, the former textile plant portrayed by Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film to which Oskar Schindler (pictured) smuggled detainees to save them from Nazi slaughter is at the heart of a battle
The Schindler’s List factory where industrialist Oskar Schindler sheltered 1,200 Jews from the Nazis is under threat because Czechs remember him as a womanising crook.
Now dilapidated, a local writer is desperately trying to raise the cash needed to restore the former textile plant.
Jaroslav Novak is also head of the Shoah and Oskar Schindler Memorial Endowment Memorial Foundation which is bidding to convert it into a museum.
But he is being met with staunch opposition because many locals in the tiny Bohemian village of Brněnec in Czech Republic think of Schindler – immortalised in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film – as a crook synonymous with gambling, womanising and heavy drinking.
Undeterred, Mr Novak, 49, is seeking funding from the European Union as well as international Jewish groups to get the project off the ground before the site vanishes.
‘This is the only Nazi concentration camp in the Czech Republic that is still standing in its original building,’ he said.
‘You cannot allow it and the whole history of Schindler to disappear.
‘I have been fighting for this for 20 years. But people are just not interested in it.’
One big obstacle is the cost – with conversion costs estimated at 140m Czech krone (£4.5m).
And despite Mr Novak, who is a native of the nearby town of Svitavy where Schindler was born, being close to persuading the Czech culture ministry to put a protection notice on the factory, perhaps the biggest issue he is facing is converting some of the locals.
Jaroslav Novak, a local writer, is head of the Shoah and Oskar Schindler Memorial Endowment Memorial Foundation bidding to convert the factory (pictured) into a museum
As the site stands dilapidated, it is a far cry from the place Schindler transported his Jewish workers to from his factories in Krakow, Poland in late 1944
Schindler, pictuered feeding hungry prisoners, died in 1974 and is honoured along with his wife, Emilie, at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
Schindler died in 1974 and is honoured along with his wife, Emilie, at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
But locals still refer to him as a ‘gauner’ a German word for crook due what they call his heavy drinking womanising and gambling debts.
Such is the opposition in the area, the present owner refuses to allow the house in which Schindler was born to be adorned with a plaque and a memorial in a park across the street was defaced with a swastika just days after its unveiling in 1994.
Jitka Gruntova, a former Communist MP, wrote a hugely critical book on Schindler, branding him a ‘traitor’ and a ‘war criminal’.
She also claims his reputation is based upon a ‘made up legend’ and added: ‘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.
‘I don’t doubt there are certain witness statements in his favour but these are, as far as I can tell, made by people who belonged to the inner circle around him,’ according to The Guardian.
Jaroslav Novak, a local writer, is head of the Shoah and Oskar Schindler Memorial Endowment Memorial Foundation bidding to convert it into a museum. (file photo of 1993 film Schindler’s List)
She is not alone in her criticism of the industrialist either.
In his birth town’s tiny museum, where Schindler’s memory is marked by a small exhibit taking up just one room, resident historian Radoslav Fikejz puts the opposition down to communism in former Czechoslovakia in the wake of the war.
‘It’s a very big problem because we still have 40 years of communism in our mentality,’ he told The Guardian.
‘It’s also a problem that Schindler was a Sudeten-German and people are afraid of one question, which is – what happens when the Germans come back?
‘But this is unrealistic.
‘Yes Schindler was a Nazi, a war criminal and a spy.
‘But I have met 150 Jews who were on his list and were in the Brněnec camp and they say that what’s important is that they are alive.’
Such is the opposition in the area, the owner of Schindler’s birth house refuses to allow the house in which Schindler was born to be adorned with a plaque and a memorial in a park across the street was defaced with a swastika just days after its unveiling in 1994. Pictured here is the Oskar Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow, Poland
As the site stands dilapidated, it is a far cry from the place Schindler transported his Jewish workers to from his factories in Krakow, Poland in late 1944.
They were moved under the illusion they were skilled engineers on their way to build tank shells for the German war effort.
But Schindler’s migration was to prevent them being massacred in the Holocaust.
Following a long legal battle, the memorial foundation now own the site, which produced goods for Ikea and Škoda before closing in 2009.
Tomas Kraus, director of the federation of Jewish communities in the Czech Republic, is backing Mr Vovak’s museum initiative.
‘It’s a very complex story,’ he told 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.’