Descendant of Jewish family that owned Schindler factory helps make it a museum

Daniel Low-Beer says though the facility was stolen from his family, the late German industrialist ‘used it for good and saved 1,200 Jews’

Illustrative: The lower part of the Schindler factory next to a demolished 19th-century building. (photo credit: Eva Munk/JTA)
Illustrative: The lower part of the Schindler factory next to a demolished 19th-century building. (photo credit: Eva Munk/JTA)

A descendant of the original Jewish owners of the factory ran by Oskar Schindler is helping lead efforts to turn the abandoned facility into a museum commemorating the German industrialist for saving the lives of Jews employed there during the Holocaust.

The factory, in the Czech village of Brnenec (Bruennlitz in German), was appropriated by the Nazis from its Jewish owners following the occupation of then-Czechoslovakia. Schindler, a Sudeten German and Nazi party member born in nearby Svitavy (Zwittau), would go onto save the lives of 1,200 Jews by employing there and other enamelware and munitions factories he owned in Nazi-occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia.

The factory continued to operate under communist rule before coming under private ownership following the end of communism in 1989, but was ultimately shuttered in 2010 and is now in ruins. It is now being turned into a museum by the Ark Foundation, which is run by Daniel Low-Beer, a descendant of the family who owned the factory.

“The factory was stolen by the Nazis and then stolen by Schindler, but he used it for good and saved 1,200 Jews,” Low-Beer told the Telegraph in an interview last month.

German industrialist Oskar Schindler waves after his arrival in Israel in 1962, to be honored for saving the lives of over 1,000 Jews during World War II. (Keystone/Getty Images via JTA)

In addition to chronicling Schindler’s life, the museum will also exhibit the history of the area and its former Jewish community, as well as address racism and discrimination.

“It is an opportunity to make a little piece of history here both in keeping an important memory alive and but also working with the local population to improve their lives,” said Low-Beer, who is British.

Low-Beer was approached about developing the site by Frantisek Olbert, who was the general manager of the factory at the time of its closure and had worked there for over 30 years.

“We were not the owners but since I had been at the factory since ’77 I didn’t want it to be destroyed, and I wanted something new,” Olbert told the Telegraph. “We were trying to find a way to save it so we approached the Low-Beer family and Daniel came up with a plan.”

Olbert said the involvement of the Low-Beer family in turning the factory into a museum and the prospect of jobs has helped earn the support of locals for the project.

Daniel Low-Beer (Screen capture: YouTube)

While turning the facility into a museum is expected to require extensive work, Low-Beer said they would retain many of their features from the time Schindler ran the factory.

“The Ark is still intact. The big turbine room where the Jews worked. The gates in which they came through. Oskar Schindler’s office building is the same. You still have the floor in the factory where the Jews lived,” he said.

Schindler’s tale was enshrined in the bestselling 1982 novel “Schindler’s Ark” and its 1993 Steven Spielberg film adaptation, “Schindler’s List.”

In 1945 the Schindlers moved to West Germany and in 1949 emigrated to Argentina. Oskar Schindler returned to Germany in 1957, while his wife remained in Argentina. He died in 1974.

Schindler is buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the only member of the Nazi party Israel has allowed to receive such an honor, and has a tree planted in his name at Yad Vashem’s Avenue of the Righteous.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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