Poldek Pfefferberg was born in 1913 in Crakow, Poland. He attended high
school in Crakow and earned a masters degree in philosophy and physical
education from Crakow University. He taught high school in Crakow until
1939 when the Germans closed all Jewish schools.
Pfefferberg fought in the Polish Army against the Nazis with the rank of
lieutenant and was wounded and arrested. He escaped and went to his
mother`s house in Crakow. One day, in November 1939, a man knocked on
the door, and Pfefferberg thought it was the Gestapo. It wasn`t. It was
Oscar Schindler, a Sudeten-German businessman who had purchased an
enamelware factory that had been confiscated from Jews. Schindler had
come to ask Pfefferberg`s mother, an interior designer, to redecorate
his new apartment.
"I was hiding in the next room", Pfefferberg later said,
"but listening to Schindler, I knew he wasn`t Gestapo. Even then I
could tell he was a good man. I began to talk to him and we became
Poldek Pfefferberg was saved - the rest of his family was
not as lucky - almost 100 perished including his parents, sister and
"Oscar Schindler was a modern Noah", Pfefferberg said,
"he saved individuals, husbands and wives and their children,
families. It was like the saying: To save one life is to save the whole
world. Schindler called us his children. In 1944, he was a very wealthy
man, a multimillionaire. He could have taken the money and gone to
Switzerland ... he could have bought Beverly Hills. But instead,
he gambled his life and all of his money to save us ..."
After the Liberation in Mai, 1945, Poldek and Ludmila had gone first to
Budapest and eventually to Munich where Poldek - a physical
education instructor before the war - organized a school for displaced
children. Oscar Schindler, too, had settled in Munich where his best
friends, the people he regarded as "his children", were the
Jews he had helped survive.
It was there, in the midst of a card game, that Poldek Pfefferberg made
his promise, vowing he would tell the world what had happened, how even
on the days when the air was black with the ashes from bodies on fire,
there was hope in Crakow because Oscar Schindler was there ...
After two years Pfefferbergs emigrated to the United States. They
settled in Los Angeles in 1950 and opened a repair shop and leather
goods business in Beverly Hills. Because of its location, the shop`s
customers were often people in the entertainment industry - writers,
producers, agents. And not one of them ever left without Poldek
Pfefferberg - now Leopold Page - telling, or at least trying to tell
them about Oscar Schindler, hoping they would turn the story into a book
or a film.
Thirty years later,
he doggedly told the Australian author Thomas Keneally the tale of Oscar
Schindler, the man who saved his life.The result has been a best-selling
book and a movie which was nominated for 12 Academy Awards.
It all began in 1980, when Keneally was in Italy for an Australian film
festival, and was scheduled to return to Australia through the Persian
Gulf and Singapore. Instead, his publisher called him to the United
States for a book tour. He wound up in Los Angeles, and in those days
there were only two flights per week to Australia, for adventurous space
He decided to replace his briefcase. Standing outside Poldek
Pfefferberg's store, he was ushered out of the 105-degree heat by
Pfefferberg. A quick purchase was delayed by the Australian credit card
he tried to use.
In the 20-minute delay, Pfefferberg found out that Keneally was a
writer, and immediately started telling him about Oscar Schindler and he
took him to the back of the store where he had a filing cabinet.
This was not the first time Pfefferberg had told a customer about
Schindler in hopes of publicizing the story. In the 1960s, the wife of
an MGM executive was in the store. Pfefferberg held her handbag hostage
until she agreed to introduce him to her husband. Poldek Pfefferberg
worked on anyone who ever came into his store who was connected with the
media or theater.
There were a few television interviews with Schindler that Poldek
Pfefferberg set up around Los Angeles in the 1970s. "I was able to
inherit the material when Poldek captured me," Keneally later said.
The story captured Keneally's interest. He was immediately taken
with the paradoxical character of Oscar Schindler, a tall, handsome
German, a chain-smoking bon-vivant who bought a previously Jewish owned
factory and saved its Jewish slave laborers.
After Keneally decided to write the story, Pfefferberg became an
advisor to Keneally for the book, and later an advisor to Steven
Spielberg for the movie.
At the first meeting with Spielberg more than a decade ago,
Pfefferberg started out by telling Spielberg, "Steve, I was
speaking to your mother the other day, and she said you're doing very
well." Pfefferberg then called Spielberg's office every week for
11 years to see when the film would be done, and to tell Spielberg
"enough with the little furry animals."
The office staff was drawing straws to see who would have to answer
the phone ...
And then, in 1992, the call came from Steven Spielberg that Poldek had
been waiting to hear. The movie would start shooting in early 1993,
Spielberg told him. Filming began in Poland in February, 1993, and
Poldek Pfefferberg went back to Crakow and saw the horrors and the
triumph all over again. He watched again as children screamed and
shots rang out and the only safe place in a world gone mad was a
factory where they made pots and pans. Schindler`s factory.
Mila and Poldek Pfefferberg were sitting in the Dorothy Chandler
Pavillon on the night "Schindler`s List" won seven
Academy Awards, when Steven Spielberg walked to the podium and
thanked, before anyone else, "a survivor named Poldek Pfefferberg
... I owe him such a debt. He has carried the story of Oscar Schindler
to all of us."
Poldek was instrumental in founding the Oscar Schindler Humanities
Foundation, which will recognize acts by individuals and
organizations, regardless of race or nationality. He said:"Only
when the foundation is a reality will I say I have fulfilled my
obligation. Because when I am no longer here, when the Schindler Jews
are not here, the foundation will still go on."
Pfefferberg died on March 9, 2001, in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
in Beverly Hills. In addition to his wife Mila, he was survived by a
son and daughter.
Why was Pfefferberg so focused on bringing Schindler's story out?
Because he promised Oscar Schindler to tell his story:"You
protect us, you save us, you feed us - we survived the Holocaust, the
tragedy, the hardship, the sickness, the beatings, the killings! We
must tell your story ...." Poldek Pfefferberg spent 40 years
trying to drum up interest in the Schindler-Story - and the story was
told so the whole world knew it by heart.
As Pfefferberg explained, "Schindler gave me my life, and I
tried to give him immortality."