NEW YORK, NY.-
She wasnt much of a typist, but she knew shorthand and spoke flawless German. And so Mimi Reinhard, an Austrian Jew who was being held in a Nazi labor camp near Krakow, Poland, during World War II, was given an office job. In that capacity, she would play a small but important role in one of the great heroic stories to emerge from the Holocaust, one in which the Nazis were outwitted and the lives of more than 1,100 Jews, including hers, were saved.
The unlikely hero was Oskar Schindler, a Nazi intelligence officer and war profiteer who ran an enamelware factory near Krakow. A womanizer and heavy drinker who was often bribing German authorities to have his way, he initially exploited the Jews as a source of cheap labor. But as he witnessed the horrors of the murderous Nazi regime, he risked his life and his fortune to become their protector.
His acts of subterfuge included creating a list of workers whom he deemed essential for the Nazi war effort. In reality, these were Jews whom he wanted to spare from all but certain annihilation. The list of workers included children, women, a girl dying of cancer, rabbis, friends of his and anyone else whose name he could remember.
His list started with about 400 names. While visiting the Plaszow labor camp, where Reinhard worked, he would ask her to type up the list, which kept growing as he and others added more names.
It was very informal, and every day someone handed her more names, and the list had to be typed again and again, her son, Sasha Weitman, said in a phone interview Tuesday from Tel Aviv, Israel. She even put her own name on the list and those of three friends, her son said not two friends, as has been widely reported.
It was Reinhard, who never learned to type beyond using two fingers, who produced the final clean manifest of names that would be presented to Nazi officials. Instead of being shipped to the gas chambers, the people listed were all sent to a Schindler munitions factory in the area of Czechoslovakia then known as the Sudetenland, where their lives were spared.
Reinhard was 107 when she died Friday in an assisted living facility in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, Weitman said.
The saga of the so-called Schindler Jews the Schindlerjuden was not made public until 1982, when Australian author Thomas Keneally published a meticulously researched novel, Schindlers Ark, which appeared in the United States as Schindlers List. Their story reached an even wider audience in 1993 through a much-acclaimed Steven Spielberg movie, also called Schindlers List, which won seven Academy Awards, including best picture.
The film did not depict Reinhard directly; rather, it showed Schindler hiring every person who auditioned for him, with his business manager, Itzhak Stern, portrayed by Ben Kingsley, performing many secretarial functions.
Reinhard was never secretive about her role, but it did not come to light publicly until 2007, when she was 92 and moving to Israel from New York, where she had settled after the war. She told of her Schindler connection to the Jewish Agency for Israel, a nonprofit Israeli group that was helping her resettle. When she landed in Israel, she was mobbed by the news media and became an instant celebrity.
She was born Carmen Koppel on Jan. 15, 1915, in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. Her mother, Frieda (Klein), was a homemaker and her father, Emil Koppel, was a businessman. He was also an opera fan and named her for Bizets Carmen, but she never liked it. Her father later agreed to change it to Mimi, the heroine of Puccinis opera, La Bohème.
Before enrolling at the University of Vienna to study languages and literature, she took stenography so that she could take lecture notes in shorthand.
I never learned to type, she told The New York Times in 2007, although on Schindlers list she categorized herself as a schreibkraft, or typist.
By 1936 she had married Joseph Weitmann (the original spelling of his surname) and lived in Krakow, where they had their son, Sasha, who was originally named Alexander. In 1939, when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, they smuggled the toddler to Hungary to live with relatives. She and her husband were confined to Krakows Jewish ghetto; Weitmann was shot to death when he tried to escape, and she was sent to the Plaszow forced-labor camp in 1942.
With the Red Army bearing down on Krakow in 1944, the Germans were in retreat and planned to send many of the remaining Jews to Auschwitz, where they almost certainly faced liquidation. At this point, Schindler stepped in and persuaded the Nazis that his essential workers of whom Reinhard was one should be moved instead to a camp in Czechoslovakia, where they could produce munitions for the German war machine.
On the way to Czechoslovakia in October 1944, their train took a detour to Auschwitz, where the workers were held for two weeks. Schindler stepped in again, this time threatening to charge the Germans with undermining the war effort if they did not allow the essential workers on his list to leave Auschwitz.
Once the workers were in Czechoslovakia, they produced very little of value in his munitions factory, but Schindler submitted falsified reports that claimed otherwise. They were liberated in May 1945.
After the war, Reinhard reunited with her son and in 1957 moved to New York, where she stayed for 50 years. Her second husband, Albert Reinhard, died in 2002 and their daughter, Lucienne Reinhard, died in 2000. Mimi Reinhard decided to move to Israel in 2007 to be near her family.
In addition to her son, she is survived by three granddaughters, nine great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Reinhard saw both sides of Schindler, who died in 1974.
He was no angel, she told Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2007. We knew that he was an SS man; he was a member of the highest ranks. They went out drinking together at night, but apparently he could not stand to see what they were doing to us.
And, she added, I saw a man who was risking his life all the time for what he was doing.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times