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"Accepting the other in our midst“

Whoever has seen the movie “Schindler’s List” directed by the US American Steven Spielberg will remember the scene in which Itzhak Stern – portrayed by Ben Kingsley – has just finished typing the list with the names of the Jews to be saved from Krakow: he takes the last sheet of paper out of the typewriter, his hands are trembling. He holds up the paper bundle and says to Schindler – portrayed by Liam Neeson: “Have a look at this list. It means life. All around it is death.”

Picture source: Jewish Historical Association Augsburg

The International Tracing Service (ITS) holds in its archives a list with the names of those 1,000 Jews – 700 male and 300 female persons including children and teenagers – who had worked for Oskar Schindler. It was in 1958 when Mietek (Mieczyslaw) Pemper in person came to Bad Arolsen to hand this list to the ITS. He had been the clerk of Amon Göth, the infamous commandant of concentration camp Plaszow. By providing Schindler with information and names, Pemper made his individual contribution to saving “Schindler’s Jews”. The document the ITS keeps in its archives was made out, i.e. typewritten by Pemper himself when the Jews had arrived in Brünnlitz where Schindler formally ran a subsidiary commando of concentration camp Groß Rosen.

Though “Schindler’s Jews” officially were forced labourers, their work was incomparable to the grind and slavery other people had to endure. Schindler whom survivors gave the byname “Vater Courage” (Father Courage) was awarded the title of honour “Righteous among the Nations” by the Israeli remembrance authority Yad Vashem in 1967.

When the war had ended, Schindler drifted around – hardly able to gain a foothold, hardly able to succeed in his profession, hardly acknowledged for his bravery in Germany. On the contrary: when his ‘portrait’ was broadcast on television, he was insulted and called a ”Judenknecht” (Jews’ servant) in broad daylight in Frankfurt/Main where he had lived since 1958. Whenever he had the occasion to join the survivors of “Schindler’s list”, he felt happy and contented which is why he went to see Israel time and again. Oskar Schindler died in 1974.

Born in Krakow in 1920, Pemper had settled in Augsburg in 1958 studying psychology and sociology. One of his careers was management consultancy. When “Schindler’s list” came to be shown in German cinemas in 1974, Pemper turned into a public figure, travelled through Germany, spoke with pupils, talked about Schindler and his bold and daring rescue action. On such occasions, Pemper freely admitted his fears of renascent Anti-Semitism. In 2001, the Federal Republic of Germany honoured him with its Order of Merit.

On 7 June 2011 Mietek Pemper’s moved and moving life came to a close. The voices of the survivors are dying away one by one, and there are only a few persons left we may listen to. It is up to us to take up, to keep hold of, their legacy. “Humans will start ‘higher evolution’ only when they succeed in making the principle of individual responsibility their dominant, when saying no to, or not putting up with, what they feel to be inhumane is considered a virtue while blind obedience is unmasked to be a non-value. We all are responsible for a better future. In my view, this includes accepting the other one, the stranger in our society, in our midst.” (from Mietek Pemper, “Der rettende Weg. Schindlers Liste – Die wahre Geschichte“ / The path to rescue. Schindler’s List – The true story, Hamburg 2005, p. 265).