Polish Jew who collaborated with Oskar Schindler to save Jews from the Nazi death camps in the Second World War
Published 19/06/2011 | 05:00
Mietek Pemper, who died on June 7 aged 91, typed up the list which helped Oskar Schindler save 1,200 Jews from the Nazis, an achievement made famous by Thomas Keneally's 1982 novel Schindler's Ark and by the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Schindler's List.
He was born Mieczyslaw Pemper on March 24, 1920 to a Jewish family in the Polish city of Krakow; when the Germans invaded Poland, he was 19 and studying to be an accountant. After the city's Jews were required to wear armbands with the Star of David, he stayed at home in protest and taught himself German stenography, eventually becoming a clerk for the administration of the Krakow ghetto.
During the bloody liquidation of the ghetto in 1942-43, many Jews were sent to the death camps, but Pemper and other able-bodied survivors were transferred to a forced labour camp at Plaszow, where Pemper was assigned to the post of personal secretary to the camp's notoriously sadistic commandant, Amon Goeth.
Pemper's position gave him access to letters sent from Goeth's superiors in Berlin. He also got to know Oskar Schindler, a hard-drinking, ethnic-German businessman from Czechoslovakia who ran an enamelware factory in Krakow. A well-known figure in Nazi circles, Schindler helped Goeth and other SS personnel to sell Jewish property on the black market. Schindler ran his factory using Jewish forced labour but had persuaded Goeth to let him house his workers in his own camp, where they were much better treated than inmates of the main compound.
In the summer of 1944, as the war turned against them, Pemper found out that the Nazis were intending to close any factories which were not dedicated to the war effort. Realising that this would probably result in the Jews at Plaszow being transferred to Auschwitz, at great personal risk he persuaded Schindler to switch to making anti-tank grenades, and together the two men laid plans to secure a transfer of the enterprise, with as many Jewish workers as possible, away from the camp at Plaszow to a new factory in Bruennlitz in Czechoslovakia. It was Pemper who compiled the famous typed list of 1,200 Jews to be recruited for work "decisive for the Nazi war effort" and transferred to the new factory.
In October 1944 the Jews, including Pemper, were transported from Plaszow in cattle wagons. En route the train was stopped by the Gestapo and Pemper's name called out. He feared the worst, but it transpired that a local SS commander simply wanted to ask him the date of Goeth's birthday so that he could send a congratulatory telegram.
After the war Pemper gave vital testimony at Goeth's trial in Poland, which resulted in his execution in 1946. In his memoirs, published in 2005, Pemper recalled occasions when "I would sit in the commandant's office and take dictation from him. While he talked, Goeth would watch the mirror outside his window, which he used to oversee the area in front of the barracks. Suddenly he would stand up, take one of the rifles from the rack on the wall and open the window. I would hear a few shots and then nothing but screams. As if he had interrupted the dictation only to take a telephone call, Goeth would come back to his desk and say, 'Where were we?'" So great was Goeth's dedication to the Final Solution that when he was presented with a list of witnesses at his trial, he reportedly exclaimed: "So many Jews? And they always told us not a single one would be left.''
Pemper later moved to the city of Augsburg and became a German citizen, working as a management consultant. He remained in intermittent contact with Schindler until his death in 1974, and later served as a consultant on Steven Spielberg's film.
Pemper's role was played down in the film, but he did not seem to mind, arguing that the "crucial accomplishment'' was not the list itself but "the multifarious acts of resistance that, like tiny stones being placed into a mosaic one by one, had made the whole process possible.''
Mietek Pemper was unmarried.