Leopold Page had a leather goods company in Beverly Hills. Every once in a while, when business was slow and there was nothing much to do, Page would pull out a set of documents from his safe, glance through them and stop at a name against number 173, and carefully put them back. He remembered all the fine details and he wanted the story to be told. As Page retrospected, he realized fuming and fretting over it would not get him anywhere, but he had to keep trying. Every day was a day of hope.
That day of hope finally came, when Thomas Keneally, the prolific Australian novelist, showed up at his shop, asking for a leather briefcase to hold his books and manuscripts.
It was October 1980 and Thomas Keneally had traveled from Australia to California, on a business trip. Australians had a reputation for credit card fraud, and Thomas Keneally was looking for a shop that sold briefcases and one that would accept his Mastercard. He should have checked on his much-used briefcase before he traveled, but it was now ripping apart, and he needed a new one in the middle of his busy engagements.
The Mastercard company was taking its own time, checking on his credentials before payment was approved. This gave enough time to Page to introduce himself and start talking. In Thomas Keneally, Page found what he was looking for. The former had come to that shop with one objective, to buy a briefcase and to pay for it with his credit card and leave. But the chance encounter with Leopold Page changed everything. He postponed his flight, put aside his other engagements and listened to Page’s story.
His name was not Leopold Page but Poldek Pfferberg. He was born in Krakow in Poland. It was September 1939, the Germans had invaded Poland, and Poldek Pfefferberg found himself fighting the Germans in a short-lived resistance. Jews were being rounded up and taken to concentration camps. Pfefferberg found employment with Oskar Schindler to obtain goods from the black market. Eventually, Pfefferberg and his wife Ludmilla were discovered and taken to a concentration camp, but Schindler intervened, to have them transferred to his factory where he provided them lodging. Schindler’s list had Poldek Pfferberg at serial number 173 and his wife’s number was 195.
Oskar Schindler was a gambler, womaniser, black marketeer, and war profiteer and reveled in a hedonistic lifestyle. All things good appealed to him. He was a member of the Nazi Party and this association got him friendships and leverages from which he profited. One of his pet projects was an enamel factory which would make pots and pans with Jewish slave labour. Contrary to Schindler’s initial planning, things took a different turn. Schindler’s enamel factory was supposed to produce cheap pots and pans for the German soldiers fighting a war at various fronts, but in reality, the workers did very little and the Nazis who made the usual rounds did not bother to dig deep. The factory gave an appearance of men and women at work. The charade went on till the end of the war, and the one thousand odd souls on Schindler’s list survived.
Page opened his safe and showed Thomas all the documents and photographs from the period of the war. Surely, it was a great story and worth writing, and Thomas Keneally wrote and called the book “Schindler’s Ark”, which probably came from the “Ark of the Covenant”. It went on to be a best seller.
Page was not done yet, he persisted with Steven Spielberg to make a movie out of the book. Every week Steven Spielberg would call Spielberg’s office and badger him, ‘When will you stop making movies about dinosaurs and the little furry things, and start making a movie on Schindler?’
His persistence paid off, the movie was made in the locations insisted upon by Page, and it went on to win an Oscar, just as Page had predicted. Schindler gave Poldek Pfefferberg life and Poldek Pfferberg gave Schindler immortality.
If Thomas Keneally had not traveled to the USA, if his briefcase had not unglued, if he had decided not to buy another briefcase, if the Mastercard had not taken an unduly long time to check his credentials, this story would probably never have been told and written.