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Published: June 28th 2015
Plaque in Svitavy Park opposite the house where Schindler was born
Schindler was German and at the time many Germans lived in the area
When we had dinner earlier with Magda and Dalibor one of the topics we discussed was the Jews who were sent to concentration camps from all over what was then Czechoslavakia which was the first non-German country occupied by the Germans. We then discussed the Steven Spielberg movie "Schindlers List" and Magda and Dalibor were surprised when I told them that the Australian author Thomas Kenneally wrote the book "Schindlers Ark" which the movie was based on. And we were just as surprised when Dalibor told us that Oskar Schindler was born in the town of Svitavy (known as Zwittau in German) where he grew up and that one of the factories which employed the Jews he saved from the gas chambers was not far from there in the town of Brnënec (known as Brünnlitz in German). Having recently read Thomas Keneally's "Searching for Schindler: A Memoir" - which Martha loaned me - I was interested to explore the area. As Magda, Dalibor and their daughters were going to spend a few days with Dalibor's parents, who still live in Svitavy, we were invited to catch the train there and join them on Saturday 27 June. Once there, the plan was
Prague's Railway Station
This was initially a reception for dignatories who were travelling by train; ordinary people weren't allowed in.
to find the factories, join the family for a BBQ lunch and finally visit the local museum which now has a permanent Schindler display and the house where he was born before we returned to Prague.
So it was up early, leaving from Prague's main station, the original of which was built in 1871 with the Art Nouveau station building built between 1901-1909 then extended during the Communist period. Catching the 7.42am train to Svitavy, a distance of around 200 kms it was approximately 2 and a half hours before we arrived and where we were met by Magda and Dalibor. Then it was off searching for Schindler. As Dalibor had mentioned when we first started discussing this part of Czech history, not many Czechs had heard of Oskar Schindler until Steven Speilberg's movie "Schindler's List" came out. But at the time of Schindler's birth in 1908 many Germans lived in and around Svitavy.
Driving to Brnënec, after a bit of searching we found an area containing many derelict factories, the first of which was being used to train those dogs who rescue people from collapsed buildings and the like; an ideal place for such action as the
buildings really were almost falling down around us. Dalibor spoke to one of the trainers who confirmed that these buildings were indeed part of the Schindler building complexes so, parking at the back entrance, we set off to walk around some of them. Notwithstanding the terrible state the buildings were in, the area around was quite beautiful, overlooked by a forest. As Magda commented, it really would have made a lovely park.
From there we discovered another series of abandoned and derelict factories close to the house of a local woman who spoke to Dalibor telling him that this was indeed Schindler's factory, pointing out Schindler's office, the building the guards lived in and the building where the Jews worked, some 1,200 of whom were saved from the gas chambers by Schindler. She also told him that she herself had worked there for 26 years and the factory hadn't closed until the early 1990s. What a find! But without Dalibor and Magda's help none of that would have been possible. Sincere thanks to you both for all you did to fulfil my dream of exploring all of this!
Our mission partly accomplished we then headed back to Svitavy
to the house of Dalibor's parents, Jiri and Jarmila, to find his dad in the process of BBQing some chicken, pork and vegetables for our lunch while his mother was preparing soup. We are so grateful for the lovely warm reception we received from them both and their wonderful hospitality which was greatly appreciated. Despite the fact that Jiri and Jarmila don't speak English and we don't speak Czech we did manage to have some 'conversations' supplemented with translation from Magda and Dalibor when needed. And it was lovely to see Magda and Dalibor's daughters Ella and Lara again.
After eating our fair share of a delectable lunch, washed down with beer for some and wine for others while enjoying the peace and serenity of the beautiful garden - apart from one noisy neighbour who seemed to spend ages mowing his lawn - it was time to say our goodbyes to Jiri, Jarmila, Ella and Lara and head off to explore more of Oskar Schindler. Thanks again to Jiri and Jarmila for their warm hospitality.
After visiting the Svitavy Museum, where we bought a book which had all the explanations in English it was off to look at
Schindler's birthplace and the plaque added to the park on the opposite side of the road; all of which has occurred since the movie "Schinders List" came out. But what surprised me was that there weren't more tourists interested in doing what we'd done. Having gone on a tour to Cesky Krumlov the day before I'm amazed that tour companies aren't doing similar tours to Svitavy and Brnënec.
Thanks to Magda, Dalibor, jiri, Jarmila and, last but not least, Martha for loaning me the book which ignited my curiosity. A great day!
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