Holocaust Rescuers

I.  Definition of terms

Yad Vashem criteria for "Righteous Gentiles":

1) extending help to save a life that is repeated and/or substantial

2) endangering one's own life

3) absence of reward, monetary or otherwise

4) deeds go beyond ordinary help

5) must be nominated by a Jewish party

6) helping a family member or Jewish convert to Christianity does not count


So far, over 20,000 individuals have been so honored

Additionally, it should be kept in mind that:

a) some people protected Jews, not for money, but accepted money for food payments and other expenses

b) some people protected Jews but did not survive (example: the Frank protectors)


II.  Different types of helpers in the Holocaust
          A.  Paid helpers
          B.  Anti-semitic helpers
          C.  Altruistic helpers
                    1.   Dr. Eugene Lazowski
                    2.   Irene Gut Opdyke
            D.     Rescuers on a larger scale:

Paul Grueninger

Aristedes de Sousa Mendes

Dr. Adelaide Hautval

the Village of Le Chambon

III.  What did the altruistic helpers do to help?
          A.  Provide food
          B.  Provide temporary or long-term shelter  
          C.  Arrange for shelter elsewhere
          D.  Get fake documents
          E.   Help find jobs

IV.  Why did they help?
          A.  Was it mainly because of religion?
          B.  Was it mainly beause of friendship?
          C.  Was it mainly because of politics?
          D.  Was it mainly out of moral obligation?

V.  The characteristics of the helpers

          A.  Proportinally more likely to come from the "intellectual class", but this group was still a minority

          B.  Political ideology typicall not important, but it was for some  

          C.  Often emphasized moral obligation as main motivation

          D.  Nechama Tec concludes
                       1. individuality
                       2. self-reliance in pursuing personal values
                       3.  matter-of-fact views about rescue
                       4.  long-lasting commitment to help the needy
                       5.  unplanned, sometimes impulsive beginning of rescue
                       6.  universal perceptions of the needy that overshadow all other attributes

          E.  Altruistic rescuers consistent with Maslow's theory about self actualization
                       1.  Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs (1908-1970):

                       2.  Only about 1% become self-actualized (see characteristics below)

  • Realistic
  • Accepting
  • Spontaneous and natural
  • Focus on problem-solving, rather than self
  • Detached
  • Nonconformist and independent
  • Appreciative
  • Have mystic or “peak” experiences
  • Identify with humanity
  • Have few deep interpersonal relationships
  • Accept democratic values
  • Ethical
  • Non-hostile sense of humor
  • Creative
                                 3.  barriers to self actualization
                                            a. not meeting lower needs
                                            b. cultural influences
                                            c.  fear of growth/change

        VI.  Psychological Theories of Prosocial Behavior

                   A.  Genetic theories (natural selection)
               1.  Behaviors that increase organism's reproductive success are selected

                          a.  seems counterproductive: resources go to help
                               other organisms survive

                          b.  however: organisms motivated to help those
                               who are genetically similar (e.g., children)
Little support for this theory in the rescuers' behavior Most of the rescuers didn't have kin that needed help. To the contrary, in the majority of cases, rescuers during the Holocaust helped people they did not even know.   
               2.  Reciprocal altruism

                         a.  the teamwork gene

                         b.  example: if someone in your boat is drowning, help is expected
The application of this theory to the Holocaust depends on how big a metaphorical boat one wants to create.  If the boat is one's ethnic/racial/religious group, then there is little support for this theory, given that many of the rescuers were Christian.  I suppose one could define the boat as "human kind" (clearly many of the rescuers did just that!), but, frankly, I think that's stretching this theory much futher than it was intended to go.


                B.  Empathy theories
             1.  Empathy-altruism theory (motivated solely by desire to help recipient)
                                 helping increases with higher levels of empathy
Many accounts by both rescuers and survivors suggest that empathy was indeed one of the primary (if not the only!) reason for why the rescuers provided help.
              2.  Empathic joy (feedback) theory = empathy leads to helping
                                 but only if helper can learn outcome
There is a lot of support for this theory in the social psychology literature, but there was little evidence for it in the Holocaust. Jews were often moved from house to house, and while everyone hoped to survive, rescuers lived under the constant threat of personal death, much less the possibility of the Jews they were helping being killed.



                    C.  Egoistic theory: helper helps others to make himself/herself feel better
              1.  Individuals experiencing negative emotions help more
              2.  Souce of negative emotion irrelevant
              3.  helping produces feelings of calmness, self-worth, and physical warmth
Hard to imagine how making oneself feel better would override safety concerns during the Holocaust, although many rescuers certainly did take pride in their efforts, both at the time and later.


Let's end with the words of Primo Levy:

Interviewer - In your opinion, another Auschwitz, another massacre like the one which took place 40 years ago, could it happen again?

Primo Levy - Not in Europe, for reasons of immunity; Some kind of immunization must exist. It is difficult that in a few decades, 50, 100 years, another Nazism may be reborn in Germany, another Fascism in Italy... But the world is much bigger than Europe. I also think that there are countries in which there would be the desire, but not the means. The idea is not dead. Nothing ever dies. Everything arises renewed.