A former inmate of the concentration camp that provided slave labor to Oskar Schindler’s factory informatively recounts the compilation of the businessman’s famous list.
Pemper, who offered key assistance to Schindler in saving the lives of several hundred Jews during the Holocaust, begins by chronicling his childhood in Kraków. It was always an anti-Semitic city, but not until the Nazi occupation of Poland did life for its Jewish residents become intolerable. Chapters on the maneuverings and deception required just to survive during those dark days are stark and dramatic, though similar to those in many other memoirs about the period. What makes the book stand out are the author’s harrowing descriptions of life at the Plaszów concentration camp and his work there. Chosen by camp commandant Amon Göth to be his typist and personal secretary, Pemper’s translation skills and administrative abilities protected him from much of the cruelty inflicted on inmates. He had extensive exposure, however, to the barbaric treatment of others and was later a key witness at Göth’s trial for war crimes. Through the commandant, Pemper came to know Schindler, who used camp personnel in his weapons business. The author lavishly praises Schindler’s humane efforts to rescue his employees and their families, but goes to great length not to deify his friend and savior. Schindler “certainly didn’t come to Kraków as a rescuer,” Pemper writes. “He came as a businessman. But when he saw what was going on in Poland, and how the occupiers were treating us, he decided to do something about it.” Though the author admires Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award–winning film version of Schindler’s List, he details instances in which the director changed facts to make the 1993 film more dramatic. Schindler did not dictate the list of people he wanted from memory as he did in the movie, for example, nor did he show up at Göth’s villa with a suitcase full of cash.
Compelling subject matter rendered in somewhat dry prose, a possible result of the translation.