On April 11, 2005, in Jerusalem, Karl Plagge will be named a “Righteous Among
the Nations” hero by the State of Israel. He joins Oskar Schindler and some
380 other similarly honored Germans who protected and saved Jews during
Karl Plagge’s story is of a unique kind of courage—that of a German army officer
who subverted the system of death to save the lives of some 250 Jews in Vilna,
Lithuania. One of those he saved was Michael Good’s mother.
Haunted by his mother’s stories of the mysterious officer who commanded her
slave labor camp, Michael Good resolved to find out all he could about the enigmatic
“Major Plagge.” For five years, he wrote hundreds of letters and scoured the
Internet to recover, in one hard-earned bit of evidence after another, information
about the man whose moral choices saved hundreds of lives. This unforgettable
book is the first portrait of a modest man who simply refused to play by the rules.
Interviewing camp survivors, opening German files untouched for more than
fifty years, and translating newly discovered letters, Good weaves an amazing tale.
An engineer from Darmstadt, Plagge joined, and then left, the Nazi Party. In Vilna,
in whose teeming ghetto tens of thousands of Jews faced extermination, he found
himself in charge of a camp where military vehicles were repaired. Time after
time, he saved Jews from prison, SS death squads, and the ghetto by issuing
them work permits as “indispensable” laborers essential to the war effort.
Karl Plagge never considered himself a hero, describing himself as a fellow traveler
for not doing more to fight the regime. He said that he saved Jews—and others—
because “I thought it was my duty.” This book also reminds us of the many ways
human beings can resist evil. “There are always some people,” Pearl Good said of
the man who saved her life when he didn’t have to, “who decide that the horror
is not to be.”