Real life is often more extraordinary than the most powerful movie. Take Oskar Schindler, for example—the factory owner portrayed in the movie Schindler’s List used his insider connections and industrial savvy to save more than 1,000 Jews from concentration camps, deportation and death during the Holocaust. And now, writes the Agence France-Presse, the factory where he employed those workers has been acquired by the Czech government with the intention of turning it into a Holocaust memorial and exhibition.
Located in Brněnec, a small Czech Republic village about 130 miles southeast of Prague, the now dilapidated factory is where Schindler sheltered nearly 1,200 Jews. Schindler, an industrialist and Nazi Party member who served as a counter-intelligence spy for Hitler in Czechoslovakia, used his business ties to stay in good favor with the Nazis while actively resisting them.
One of Schindler's enamel factories near Krakow used the forced labor of Jews who had been pushed out of the Krakow ghetto and into Plaszow, a forced labor camp that turned out to be a temporary stop on the way to extermination camps like Auschwitz. Schindler added an essentially non-functioning armament division to the factory, convinced the SS to convert the factory into a division of the Plaszow camp itself, and then moved around 1,200 of the workers to another factory with a similar arrangement when the camp was abandoned. Schindler’s move—and the bogus production figures that he used to justify his factory’s existence—ended up saving over 1,000 Jews from the camps.
Though Schindler’s Krakow factory is already a museum, the site in Brněnec has long been abandoned, and over the years it has become a center of controversy. As Robert Tait reports for The Guardian, the factory is in serious disrepair and was the center of several legal battles. In addition, notes Tait, Schindler, who was named one of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations in 1993, has an ambiguous reputation in the Czech Republic, where people still remember his work on behalf of the Nazis and his reputation as a “crook” in addition to his heroic acts.
Anti-Semitism is also on the rise in the Czech Republic, and in a 2015 survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, 44 percent of Czech respondents said that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” Tait notes that the small town of Brněnec has been reticent to provoke an anti-Semitic backlash with a memorial.
But a memorial there will be: As the DPA German press agency notes, the site will be declared a listed monument and the Oskar Schindler Foundation, which took over management of the building this summer, will build a museum there by 2019. It’s one of the rare Nazi concentration camp relics that still remains in the region—and soon, it will serve as a place for those who prefer to experience history through the lens of real life instead of the silver screen to mourn and celebrate the complex legacy of a man who turned opportunism into heroism and the people whose lives he affected.