An American doctor’s quest for the unlikely Samaritan who saved his family during the Holocaust.
“He was better than Schindler.” So remarked debut author Good’s mother on returning, in 1999, to the dilapidated site of a onetime Nazi motor-repair facility—an HKP, in the German acronym—outside of Vilnius, Lithuania. There, more than a thousand Jewish slave laborers and their families, having been removed from a ghetto that would soon be liquidated, spent the last years of WWII servicing military vehicles bound for the Eastern Front. Conditions in the HKP and its satellite shops were “relatively benign”; the prisoners, Good’s grandfather recalled, “slept in beds and were able to wash [them]selves and to cook,” and if rations were sometimes short, no one starved. This comparative good treatment was all thanks to the offices of a Major Karl Plagge, who courted severe punishment himself for interfering with the murderous policies of the S.S. With the Germans’ westward retreat in 1944, Plagge disappeared. Working from the testimonials of survivors, Good first sought to locate military records but was stymied because access to such documents was restricted. Having recruited the help of German researchers, however, he was finally able to locate transcripts of Plagge’s postwar denazification trial, in which Plagge related how he attempted to balance being a good and obedient soldier with being a quiet agent of resistance: “I took the decision,” he said, “always to act against Nazi rules and to also give my subordinates the order to act in a very humane manner toward the civilian population”—including Jews. Armed with this evidence, Good petitioned Israel’s Yad Vashem commission to grant Plagge the honorary designation of “righteous among nations,” indicating a gentile who had helped Jews at personal risk. Good’s request was finally granted in 2002—but not without another trying period of argumentation and presentation of evidence to prove that Plagge truly deserved such recognition.
A rewarding tale of redemption in the face of horror, of wide interest.