Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List popularized the true story of a German businessman who manipulated his Nazi connections and spent his personal fortune to save some 1,200 Jewish prisoners from certain death during the Holocaust. But few know that those lists were made possible by a secret strategy designed by a young Polish Jew at the Płaszow concentration camp. Mietek Pemper’s compelling and moving memoir tells the true story of how Schindler’s list really came to pass.
Pemper was born in 1920 into a lively and cultivated Jewish family for whom everything changed in 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland. Evicted from their home, they were forced into the Krakow ghetto and, later, into the nearby camp of Płaszow where Pemper’s knowledge of the German language was put to use by the sadistic camp commandant Amon Goth. Forced to work as Goth’s personal stenographer from March 1943 to September 1944—an exceptional job for a Jewish prisoner—Pemper soon realized that he could use his position as the commandant’s private secretary to familiarize himself with the inner workings of the Nazi bureaucracy and exploit the system to his fellow detainees’ advantage. Once he gained access to classified documents, Pemper was able to pass on secret information for Schindler to compile his famous lists. After the war, Pemper was the key witness of the prosecution in the 1946 trial against Goth and several other SS officers. The Road to Rescue stands as a historically authentic testimony of one man’s unparalleled courage, wit, defiance, and bittersweet victory over the Nazi regime.
|Publisher:||Other Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Reading Group Guide
1. Pemper states that it is imperative to stick only to the facts of the past, saying, “Even the tiniest details must be correct, for any imprecision threatens the credibility of the entire narrative.” Schindler’s List, the novel and the movie, were fictionalized versions of this history, in which the roles of Izak Stern and Mietek Pemper are combined into one character role. Do you think it is justified to fictionalize these historical events for dramatic purposes? Do you think there is a place for both fiction and nonfiction about the Holocaust?
2. In Pemper’s words: “I’ve often wondered what would have happened if there had been no war and no Nazi ideology with its racist mania. Göth would probably not have become a mass murderer, nor Schindler a saver of lives. It was only the extraordinary circumstances of war and the immense power granted to individual men that revealed the nature of these men to such an impressive and terrifying degree.” Do you agree that such extreme circumstances and unusual opportunities for power reveal the underlying character of a person?
3. After killing someone, Göth would also kill the person’s entire family. Pemper states that this made him realize he could never give up or make the smallest mistake. Yet he also took great risks to help save people. How did he reconcile these risks?
4. Pemper says that Amon Göth was an intelligent man. Why do you think Göth allowed Pemper to work not only as a translator but also as his secretary, and in an office where he had access to many confidential documents?
5. As Pemper mentions, Jewish victims have been criticized for not engaging in more resistance against the Nazis. Acts of violent resistance did occur and had enormous symbolic importance even though they were met with “horrific reprisals” from the Nazis. Pemper chose to avoid violence and practiced what he called “intelligent resistance,” finding ways to deceive the Nazis and to manipulate the situation to try to help people survive. What do you think of these two forms of resistance under these extreme circumstances?
6. Consider the understated tone of Pemper’s writing. Does his controlled, matter-of-fact telling of the story convey the power of his experience effectively?
7. Pemper is careful not to idealize Oskar Schindler but insists that Schindler’s foibles are irrelevant compared to what he did to save lives. Do you agree with this assessment? Is Pemper fair to Schindler? Is he too generous to him? How might Schindler’s “foibles” have helped him in his project to save as many Jewish people as he could?
8. Pemper quotes the Holocaust survivor Ruth Kluger as saying, “Only despair gives us courage, while hope makes cowards of us all.” How does this relate to Pemper’s experience in the camps? Did his acceptance of the inevitability of his own death gave him the coolheadedness and calm to see and act on the opportunities to save others? Or was he motivated by hope?
9. Recall SS officer Dworschak’s refusal to kill a young woman and child (pages 106—108). How did this event affect Pemper? Can one decent act in the midst of a totally inhumane environment have a larger meaning?
10. Why did Pemper write this book? What are his readers meant to take from it?