Holocaust Rescuers

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When confronted with the idea of a rescuer, most memories drift back to childhood superheroes like superman saving the damsel in distress, but rarely are thoughts given to ordinary people risking their lives, to provide even the smallest comfort to those in need, during the Holocaust. However, when actually faced with the notion of risking ones life to save that of a stranger, most shudder away in fear; but not that of a rescuer. These selfless individuals were far and few between in the times preceding and throughout the horrific acts of the Holocaust. In Nazi occupied countries, those who are considered rescuers represented a minority of less than one-half of one-percent of the population (Oliner). The rescuer is an individual who undertakes a mission to save those who are suffering, unfortunate, and deprived of basic human rights. Altruism, in its grandest form, is a word that very clearly represents the level of caring and compassionate nature of the rescuer. Without any expectation of external reward this minority represented an altruistic act of the highest level- facing the threat of death to themselves and their entire family. Yad Vashem began an organization to honor those one-half of one-percent, translating to 23,226 individuals (Yad Vashem), on behalf of the State of Isreal and the Jewish people. Vashem recognizes non-Jewish rescuers and awards those meeting his strict criteria with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations.” If a person nominated had active involvement in saving one or more Jews from death or deportation to a death camp, risked his or her life, liberty, or position, his or her initial motivation was without personal gain, and if there is testimony of those whom were helped they qualify for this title of “Righteous Among the Nations (Yad Vashem).” Rescuers are in a group of their own and it comes as no surprise that most share overlapping characteristics to explain such selfless behavior. Nehama Tec and Pearl Oliner have both have conducted research and arose to conclude many qualities of the “rescuer”: They are non-conformists, very independent, have a long history of doing good deeds, never saw their deeds as extraordinary — just as something that needed done, they identify with victims of injustice and see beyond race and ethnicity, possess a strong personal moral compass, uncanny ability to live a double life, firm and spontaneous decision making, have stronger attachment to people in immediate environments, powerful feeling of responsibility to those outside of immediate familial circles, strong values relating to care and empathy, and take a deep rooted sense of personal responsibility (Tec & Oliner). A strong emphasis towards the love or tolerance of Jews, according to Oliner, were made from good Jewish-related experiences which helped in the development of their personality, external situations such as opportunity and availability of resources, and values also contribute to those who choose to rescue (Oliner). It is then fair to say that those who possess these traits should be respondent in similar ways to the rescue of their fellow man regardless of age, sex, or other factors including those of religion. But this is simply not the case as part of the pent up hostility of the Christian population towards the Jewish community. Of those rescuers who possessed the characteristics outlined by Vashem, Tec, and Oliner, there was a varying in the degree in which the rescuer was religious and also the level of religion contributed to a distribution in characteristics. The question is then asked, did the strength of ones religion contribute to being a rescuer? Alexander Donat was a Dutch protestant whom we can categorize under the highly religious category as a rescuer because he regarded his religion as a major source of meaningful associations and beliefs gearing him towards becoming a rescuer. He harbored conventional social, economic, and religious prejudices towards Jews, but still...
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