Mimi Reinhardt, the secretary who drew up Oskar Schindler's list, dies at 107
“I typed with two fingers only"
Had Adolf Hitler has his way, then Mimi Reinhardt would have died at 29 – the age at which she was sent to Auschwitz. Instead, she would live nearly another eight decades before she died in Israel this week. With her passing, we have lost a historical figure who actually typed up Oskar Schindler’s much feted list of some 1100 Jews who the industrialist recruited from the ghetto of the Polish city of Kraków to work in his factory.
“The only practical thing in my life that I learned was shorthand, but I never learned to type,” Reinhardt once told the New York Times. “I typed with two fingers only.”
Reinhardt was born in Austria in January 1915, and in 1936 she moved to Kraków with her husband. Her son Sacha was born in June 1939, and after the Nazis invaded Poland, the Jewish couple managed to spirit Sacha to Hungary by giving him an Aryan identity. The journey was made on foot, but the couple were soon arrested, and Reinhardt’s husband was shot dead when he tried to escape the ghetto in Kraków.
Reinhardt was put to work in the administrative section of Plaszow concentration camp, where she was exposed to the horrors of life under the camp’s sadistic commandant Amon Göth.
“One day an SS officer came into the office,” she later told Haaretz, “and told my superior about an unpleasant experience – he had to shoot a small child. He had ordered the boy to take off his clothes. But he replied that his mother would scold him if he was without clothes in the middle of winter, because then he would catch cold.”
“The officer reported that he did not want to damage the clothes because at that time clothes were being sent to Germany in large quantities. Finally he stripped the child and shot him, saying it was most awkward because he had a child of the same age at home.”
It was in the camp that Reinhardt – then known as Carmen Weitmann – typed up the list for Oskar Schindler, who she first met in October 1944. The industrialist wanted to establish an arms factory in Brinlitz in what is now the Czech Republic, and asked Göth to give him some 1,100 workers.
It was Reinhardt’s job to type up the list, which largely featured those who were already working for Schindler. And then, at the bottom, Reinhardt added some more names.
“I wrote my name and my friends' names until the quota was filled,” she recalled. “I did what was assigned to me. They ordered me to write, and so I wrote.”
That of course would save her life, but at the time, it was not thought that being included on the list would necessarily spare one from the gas chambers.
“Going with Schindler gave us no guarantee of anything,” said Reinhardt. “We didn't think Schindler would really be able to save us. Maybe he was just taking us to another camp. Who could know? We wanted to be on the list because we trusted Schindler and for no other reason.”
Reinhardt’s misgivings would prove to be well-founded, because in the autumn of 1944, Reinhardt, along with a train load of Schindler’s Jews bound for Brinlitz, was instead sent to Auschwitz. Reinhardt spent two weeks in what she described as conditions ‘straight out of Dante’s inferno’, while Schindler lobbied the Germans to free his Jews. “We were sure that this was the end,” said Reinhardt.
Fortunately, Schindler’s persuasiveness saved her life and those of so many others, and the Jews were rescued from Auschwitz and sent to Brinlitz, where Reinhardt spent the rest of the war.
Mercifully, Reinhardt’s son Sacha had survived, and mother and child were soon reunited. Reinhardt would marry again, and lived in the United States until she was 92 when she moved to Israel where Sacha worked as a professor of sociology.
When the movie Schindler’s List was released in 1993, Reinhardt was initially unable to watch it.
“The memory was still too fresh," she said. “I didn't want to go through it all again. After the war I felt that part of my life had ended, that I was no longer myself and that I had to start over. It was as if my life had only begun after the war. For me the war was such a big break that I felt like I wasn't myself. I did see the film in the end, but I didn't feel like one of the prisoners, if only because they were all dressed too decently. I didn't see myself as one of them. It's like I wasn't myself.”
Of Schindler himself, Reinhardt was always aware of the complexity of his character.
“He wasn't an angel," she recalled, "we knew he belonged to the SS. He was of high rank. They often went out drinking at night. But obviously he couldn't bear to see what they were doing to us. Some say he may have just seen that Germany was losing the war. And maybe he just wanted to improve his own situation. I didn't see it that way. To me, he was a man who was risking his life all the time by doing what he was doing.”
“Why weren't there more Nazis like him?” Reinhardt once asked. “He was a ‘mensch’. He probably had a heart of gold.”
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