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« March 6: International Day of Solidarity with Iranian Workers | Main | Jose Deported: All Our Hopes Dashed »


Conscience and Courage, by Eva Fogelman

By Angelo Lopez
March 2, 2008

As a big movie fan, I always get annoyed at people who say that movies are only a bad influence on people. In my head, I keep wanting to tell them that they just watch the wrong movies.

One of the movies that really influenced me was Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List".

It not only gave me a real sense of the horrors of the Holocaust, it got me interested in the idea of the difference a courageous individual can have to the people he or she comes in contact with.

At around the mid 1990s, I got interested in learning more about other rescuers and hearing how they got the courage and the values to risk their lives for those who were despised by the general public.

One of the first books that I read was Eva Fogelman's book Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust. Fogelman looked at the rescuers through the eyes of a dispassionate social scientist, analyzing how a person's upbringing, ideology, or religious beliefs would lead them to risk their lives during the Nazi occupation.

My favorite book is Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, by Gay Block and Malka Drucker. They interviewed rescuers and allowed their own words to tell the story, a la Studs Terkel.

The two authors quoted from sociologists who studied the rescuers and found some common traits:

Nehama Tec, a professor of sociology who has researched compassion and altruism, explained at a recent conference held to examine the experience of children hidden during the war that rescuers come from 'all walks of life, all religious and political affiliations, and all family configurations.'

Although she has found no pattern here, she sees 'a set of interdependent characteristics and conditions' that Holocaust rescuers share:

  1. They don't blend into their communities. This makes them less controlled by their environment and more inclined to ac on their own principles.
  2. They are independent people and they know it. They do what they feel they must do, what is right, and the right thing is to help others.
  3. They have a long history of doing good deeds. (Tec has interviewed child survivors, whose rescuers were usually mature people. Our rescuers were much younger, most not over twenty-five during the war, so they had little chance earlier to demonstrate this characteristic.)
  4. Because they have done the right thing for a long time, it doesn't seem extraordinary to them. If you consider something your duty, you do it automatically.
  5. They choose to help without rational consideration.
  6. They have universalistic perceptions that transcend race and ethnicity. They can respond to the needy and helpless because they identify with victims of injustice.

Reading the stories of the various rescuers, it made me reexamine my own attitudes and times when I've been indifferent towards those who are marginalized today, like a homeless person or someone with a mental illness.

The qualities that Tec found in these rescuers seem like qualities that we as Progressive Christians are striving for as well. There were notable Christian rescuers, Corrie Ten Boom being the most famous. I admire activists because they share many of the same qualities as these rescuers and they are trying, often to a seemingly indifferent society, to fight for justice and made the world a little better.


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The blog post previous to it is titled "March 6: International Day of Solidarity with Iranian Workers"

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