Even in the midst of darkness, one may find an unexpected ray of hope. For the Jews of the HKP slave labor camp in Vilna Poland in 1943, that light was provided by the moral courage of Major Karl Plagge, the Wehrmacht commander of their camp. This website is devoted to the story of these beleaguered Jews and the unexpected moral conduct of their unusual benefactor.
In June of 1941, the Holocaust descended upon the Jews of Vilna. Unprecedented calamity would befall the 100,000 Jewish residents of that city; by the time of their liberation from the Nazis on June 13, 1944 only 2000 of them would still be alive. Yet among that small remnant of survivors, the largest single group came from the HKP slave labor camp on Subocz street at the outskirts of town. Many of the survivors from HKP credited the benevolent commander of their camp, Major Karl Plagge, for having saved them all. They said that Plagge had helped them during their hour of need, giving them life saving worker papers, food, shelter and protection from the murderous grasp of the SS. The survivors did not know exactly who he was or why he acted in such an unexpectedly humane manner, but they credited him and some of his men for saving their lives. For more than fifty years Jewish survivors from Vilna had been searching for Major Plagge, to thank him and to try to understand how he came to stand as a startling light of moral courage in the midst of utter darkness. After 1945, the approximately 250 Holocaust survivors of the HKP Slave Labor Camp were scattered over the globe, working to begin life anew. But over the decades and generations that followed the war, from DP camps in Germany and from new homes in the United States, Canada, Israel, France, Lithuania and Russia, they tried to find him. They told their children stories of survival and that they owed their lives to the actions of Major Plagge. For many years the identity and motivations of this unusual officer remained obscured by the mists of time and distance. However in 1999 a group of researchers consisting of HKP survivors, their children and friends in Germany, using the power of the internet, began to uncover the lost story of Karl Plagge and the Jews of HKP. Opening long lost archives they traced Plagge’s trail back to his hometown of Darmstadt to discover a remarkable man who shows us humanity’s ability to chose a moral path . Through the efforts of HKP survivors and their descendants, Karl Plagge was named a Righteous Among the Nations hero in 2005 by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Authority. He is one of a small handful of German soldiers whose names are enshrined in the Garden of the Righteous in Jerusalem.
This website, originally a companion to Michael Good’s book The Search For Major Plagge, seeks to document the story of the Holocaust in Vilna and the benevolent actions of Karl Plagge at the HKP Slave labor camp in Vilna Poland (now Vilnius Lithuania).
In 2018 a documentary film exploring this gripping story was shown in Israel, Canada and will soon be broadcast on PBS in the United States.
Michael Good's talk on the story of Karl Plagge and the Jews of HKP shown on C-SPAN's "Book TV"
Learn the in-depth story of Karl Plagge's covert efforts to protect the lives of 1,257 Jewish Prisoners of the Vilna Ghetto, and the survivor's decades long search to reveal the story of their rescue.
View the HKP prisoners list gathered together from camp roll call and sick prisoner lists gathered by the Lithuanian State Jewish Museum after the war. For HKP families, help name the victims who perished and whose names are in danger of being lost to history
Coming in early 2019, a documentary film about the story of Karl Plagge and the Jews of HKP. View Trailer