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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 friends."

Poldek Pfefferberg was saved - the rest of his family was not as lucky - almost 100 perished including his parents, sister and brother-in-law.

"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 travelers.

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.

The Holocaust

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."

Poldek 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."

Murray Pantirer
Zev Kedem
Abraham Zuckerman
Poldek Pfefferberg
Anna Duklauer Perl


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