The Nazi who saved Jews

When we study the Holocaust, we learn more than simple stories of brutal killers and tragic victims. We learn of Jewish revolts and bravery, and we learn also of courageous Christians.

“The Search for Major Plagge: The Nazi Who Saved Jews” is a factual account of one such Righteous Gentile, Major Karl Plagge.

Author Michael Good, a medical doctor who is the son of survivors, reconstructs the actions of the German major who saved over 1,000 Jewish men, women and children, including Good’s mother, by refusing to follow protocol and outwitting his superiors.

Born in 1897, Plagge fought with his countrymen in World War I. After the war ended, he became an engineer and joined the Nazi Party — an act for which he never forgave himself. Never anti-Semitic, he was a godfather to a half-Jewish child. In 1939, he quit the Nazi party. He would later write: “I didn’t pay any party contribution … I had come into clear opposition to the National Socialist methods of violence.”

When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Plagge was drafted. In 1943, during the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, he was assigned as a leader of the HKP, a German military vehicle repair unit, where he took advantage of the position to save as many Jews as possible — by hiring them.

Good writes, “To the outside authorities, he kept up the guise that he needed these skilled Jewish workers to carry out his duty of running an efficient vehicle-repair operation. However, in reality, many of the Jews were unskilled and owed their jobs to Plagge’s benevolence.”

A fellow Nazi officer later testified, “‘Unusable Jews’ became victims of extermination … employment in a factory meant longer survival for the Jews of that time. Mr. Plagge employed in his factory Jewish workers of great numbers … He employed the majority of these Jews only to save them from extermination.”

Yet Plagge never forgave himself for the years he had been in the Nazi Party. He had wanted to save more children.

In a letter to his attorney, Plagge sought to reconcile his feelings about the Holocaust, using a metaphor borrowed from Camus in “The Plague.” He wrote, “I wasn’t able to recognize the boundaries where limit of guilt began or ended, and in the broader sense, as a German, I bear this guilt. From this plague there was no refuge … If on earth there should only be ‘scourges and victims,’ then there is an obligation … to espouse the cause of the victim.”

In addition to writing the book, Good successfully organized a campaign to honor Plagge in Israel earlier this year. With his work, Good has resurrected the deeds of a true man of conscience and bravery, the kind of person sorely needed not only during World War II, but in our own time as well.

“The Search for Major Plagge: The Nazi Who Saved Jews” by Michael Good. (272 pages, Fordham University Press, $27.95).