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Exhibition “Karl Plagge – A Righteous Among the Nations”

The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen has opened the exhibition “Karl Plagge (1897-1957) – A Righteous Among the Nations” which is on view at the ITS from 26 March to 7 May 2010. The exhibition, developed by the Darmstadt History Workshop, remembers Wehrmacht Major Karl Plagge for his part in saving the lives of nearly 250 Jews. “Major Plagge did not sit idly by but instead decided to do something against the madness in order to save human lives,” said ITS Director Jean-Luc Blondel at the opening. “The exhibition is part of the work of remembering, and at the same time a call not to neglect our commitment to serving the survivors.”

Twelve posters depict Karl Plagge´s life, his efforts to save the Jews and his posthumous honor. As commander of the Heereskraftfahrparks (HKP) 562 (a repair facility for military vehicles) in Wilna (Vilnius), Lithuania, Plagge was able to save Jewish forced labourers from certain death in a German extermination camp between 1941 and 1944. He established a free-standing HKP labour camp and tried to make sure that forced labourers were treated humanely. Jewish families were able to stay together because they were performing work which was “vital to the war effort.”

“Those who made the effort to save lives are models of civil courage and lived humanistic convictions. This is definitive proof that, contrary to the post-war myths, it was indeed possible to help,” said Dr. Susanne Urban, head of research at the ITS. “At the outset, Plagge certainly profited from and was a perpetrator of National Socialism. However, as with Oskar Schindler, he underwent some sort of transformation.” Two weeks before the Red Army captured the city, Plagge warned the forced labourers that the camp would be taken over by an SS commando. Nearly 250 Jews went into hiding until the Red Army´s arrival. Plagge, who died in Darmstadt in 1957, was honored as a “Righteous among the Nations” in April 2005 at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

In addition to Plagge´s life, the exhibition also focuses on historical background. Visitors learn about pre-war Jewish life in Lithuania, how persecution began after German troops occupied the country and how isolated Jewish resistance was organized. The ITS has provided additional information panels, documents and booklets on individual fates from its archive.

Among others, exhibition organizers Christoph Jetter, Hannelore Skroblies and Lennart Bartelheimer from Darmstadt, retired state parliament representative Dieter Fischer and council member Helmut Hausmann attended the exhibition opening at the ITS. Music was provided by Günter Fuhr and Berthold Mayrhofer, who played songs from the ghettoes.

The exhibition runs through 7 May 2010. Hours are Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, Friday 9 a.m to 1 p.m. The ITS will also present two related lectures:

Dr. Susanne Urban, ITS Head of Research
“A Righteous Among the Nations
– Humanity in the Time of the Holocaust” Thursday, 8 April 2010, 5 p.m.

Sebastian Schönemann, ITS historian
“Einsatzgruppe A: The ‘War of Ideology’ in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia” Thursday, 6 May 2010, 5 p.m.