“Perhaps in other places only a small amount of determination was lacking in order to prevent or decrease the atrocities. I never felt that this needed special courage. It required only the conviction and strength that anyone can draw from the depth of moral feelings that exists in all humans.” —Karl Plagge, in a letter written in 1956
On April 11, 2005, in Jerusalem, Karl Plagge was named a “Righteous Among the Nations” hero by the State of Israel. He joins Oskar Schindler and some three hundred eighty other similarly honored Germans who protected and saved Jews during the Holocaust.
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’smother.
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.”
This expanded edition features new photographs and a new epilogue on the impact of the discovery of Karl Plagge--especially the story of 83-year-old Alfons von Deschwanden, who, after fifty years of silence, came forward as a veteran of Plagge's unit. His testimony is now part of this growing witness to truth.
Michael Good has appeared on C-SPAN, as a speaker in Israel, and in Germany and in schools, libraries, churches and synagogues across the United States. Good, a physician continues to follow and develop the Plagge story from his home in Durham, Connecticut.
"Michael Good's The Search for Major Plagge: The Nazi Who Saved Jews is a poignant and powerful story. It begins with a journey of self discover, a trip back with his aging parents to Vilna where he learns anew the story of his parents survival due to the kindness of others and confronts the question who was the man who saved Jews in Vilna. Good tells his parents saga sensitively and briefly; he then commences on a new narrative recovering from obscurity a moral man enveloped by an immoral -- or more accurately anti-moral society -- who did what he could within the limits of his capacity and the openings that an oppressive system allowed to save Jews. His portrait is vivid; his questions compelling. His answers only deepen the mystery of goodness and its meaning in our age. He created a community of inquiry and a community that could finally look back on the past and say thank you -- posthumously -- to their savior by making his memory immortal."—Michael Berenbaum, Director Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust Professor of Theology, the University of Judaism Los Angeles, California
"This is a riveting book, written as an involved detective story, and an exemplary tale of unassuming human courage. After the Vilna Ghetto was liquated by the Nazis in September 1943, a considerable group of Jews survived in the houses of HKP (An industrial workplace of the German army) almost until the liberation, protected by the Werhmacht commander of the outfit, Major Plagge, who stood up for his Jews even against pressures from the Gestapo." - Benjamin Harshav, Yale University
"Against the background of the Holocaust which has robbed so many of their faith, here is a story to restore one's faith."—Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
"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....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."—Marek Breiger, L.A. Jewish Journal
The Search for Major Plagge
The Nazi Who Saved Jews
By Michael Good
Fordham University Press
272 pages illustrated
Die Eltern von Michael Good konnten im litauischen Wilna dem Holocaust entkommen. „Gerettet hat uns und viele andere ein Wehrmachtsoffizier: Major Plagge," erzählen sie später ihrem Sohn. Die Geschichte aber lebt nur in ihrer Erinnerung - sie ist nirgendwo dokumentiert. Wer war dieser mysteriöse Offizier? Was ist aus ihm geworden? Mehr als 50 Jahre später macht sich Michael Good auf, den Retter seiner Mutter zu suchen, ohne mehr zu kennen als seinen Namen und seinen Dienstgrad. Die Recherche führt ihn über Jahre hinweg weltweit durch das Internet, bis er schließlich auf eine höchst ungewöhnliche Geschichte stößt.
Das Buch erzählt die Geschichte der Juden von Wilna und die Geschichte eines Deutschen, der einen kleinen Teil von ihnen retten konnte. Es stützt sich auf die Erzählungen der Familie des Autors, auf Interviews mit anderen Überlebenden und auf über 50 Jahre verschlossenene Wehrmachtsakten und Protokolle des Entnazifizierungsverfahren von Karl Plagge. Nach und nach vervollständigt sich dabei das Bild eines Deutschen, der durch Menschlichkeit, Umsicht und Mut mehrere Hundert Juden vor der Erschießung und der Deportation in die Vernichtungslager rettete.
„Es ist keine ganz bequeme Geschichte, die der jüdische Arzt Michael Good seit sechs Jahren in die Welt zu tragen versucht. Den Deutschen, so ahnt er, wird sie zeigen, dass Widerstand gegen den Holocaust auch in der Wehrmacht möglich war. Juden wird sie beweisen, dass Nazis zu Lebensrettern werden konnten: Und dem Komitee Yad Vashem in Israel legte sie sogar die Bürde auf, ein NSDAP-Mitglied zu ehren. Es geht um die lang verschüttete, höchst ungewöhnliche Geschichte des Wehrmachtsmajors Karl Plagge aus Darmstadt."