The Road To Rescue: The Untold Story Of Schindler’s List, by Mietek Pemper
This book is a fascinating example of the sort of tell-all memoir that seeks to correct misunderstandings in the aftermath of something that is culturally significant, namely Schindler’s list in this case. The author himself is a somewhat ambiguous character, a multi-lingual Polish Jew who might be considered a half-collaborator, an office employee of a brutal SS officer in the Plaszów ghetto/concentration camp who shrewdly sought to survive by distancing himself as much as possible from being viewed as an insider, and one who appears to have a couple of scores to settle with other half-collaborators concerning their accounts and role in World War II. This work, both as an example of a slightly revisionist historical memoir, and in its polemical aspects, is worth being read. Not only does it tell a compelling (if somewhat grim and very tense) story, but it also demonstrates the complexity of writing about World War II, even such a seemingly straightforward matter of how a corrupt but decent businessman was able to save the lives of over 1,000 Jews in the midst of the horrors of Hitler’s “final solution,” and how divided the Jewish community was even as it was being gutted by the violence of Nazi Germany.
This particular book is about 200 pages or so and consists of material from the author’s experience. This is a memoir, and one where the author is cautious to discuss things that he saw and experienced and to state when his own thought processes rather than direct evidence is involved in making sense of things. The author begins with a discussion of his peacetime youth in Krakow and his early experiences with anti-semitism as a college student as World War II approached. There is then a discussion of the invasion and his life in the ghetto. The book takes a grim and dramatic turn when the author discusses how it was that he came to work for the sadistic SS commandeur Amon Göth, who would regularly kill prisoners just because he could. The author moves on to discuss the fraudulent production tables that allowed the concentration camp to survive liquidation, gives a surprising revelation that came up during his testimony as a witness against Gerhard Maurer in the postwar anti-Nazi trials, and discussed how it was that Plaszów became a concentration camp. After that the author waxes eloquent on Oskar Schindler’s righteous deeds and generosity towards the Jews and how it was that the list came to be. After this the author closes the book with a discussion of the liberation of the camp in Sudetenland where they ended up, the author’s return to Krakow after the war, and the lack of remorse of the Nazi murderers and why we must never forget World War II, along with some appendices, including one which corrects Izak Stern’s report on Schindler’s list.
What kind of scores does the author have to settle? For one, the author seeks to present himself as an unwilling helper of the SS commander of the Krakow concentration camp, rather than those who willingly helped. To be sure, most of the people in this book seem to be semi-collaborators who sought to make their own position in the midst of an intolerably difficult situation, but it is noteworthy that the author is willing to be intensely critical towards Izak Stern to a lesser extent and to a greater extent towards Marcel Goldberg, who appears repeatedly as a corrupt and self-serving person who sought to profit off of his access to Schindler’s list and his ability to add and remove names based on who gave him something, which the author clearly views as a loathsome degree of corruption. The division within the Jewish community of Poland is a lamentable, albeit unintentional, reality that appears here, and this division was not resolved either during the war or in the postwar period itself, where the author is clearly aware of various memoirs and accounts of his fellow survivors of the Holocaust and interested in setting the story straight insofar as he can from his own experience as a privileged but deeply vulnerable prisoner during World War II.