THE ALTRUISTIC PERSONALITY: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Germany by Samuel B. & Pearl Oliner Oliner

THE ALTRUISTIC PERSONALITY: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Germany

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A broad-based study of the men and women who rescued Jews from the Nazi Holocaust, with particular emphasis on the familial and societal factors that led them to risk their lives for others. The Oliners (he: Sociology, she: Education; both Humboldt State) interviewed and psychologically tested 406 rescuers, 150 rescued survivors, and 126 who did little or nothing. During WW II these subjects lived in eight European countries, including Germany. On average, the rescuers came from close-knit families whose parents stressed a moral imperative to help others. (A number of the rescuers could provide no rationale for their actions other than it was the right thing to do.) Their parents were seldom arbitrarily authoritarian, and those who meted out punishment almost always explained its purpose. Many of the families belonged to churches that stressed the humane side of Christianity, and some were members of political movements that promoted equal treatment for all. Non-rescuers tended to feel helpless or indifferent due, say the Oliners, to their cold, arbitrarily authoritarian upbringing, and a social milieu that fostered the belief that individuals can do little to change fate. Although members of some nationalities (e.g., Hungarians, Rumanians) enthusiastically cooperated in Jewish extermination, the fate of the Jews was determined by the ferocity of Nazi overlords in the various occupied countries. Enlightened Holland produced many Good Samaritans, yet its assimilated and generally esteemed Jewish population was decimated due to a large S.S. presence and the ease with which the Nazis could block ports and numerous bridges. On the other hand, the warmhearted Italians simply ignored Mussolini's anti-Semitic edicts and, after the Nazis took over late in the war, thwarted them in various ingenious ways. Filled with reminiscences of saviors and saved: a chastening testament to human compassion.

Pub Date: June 13th, 1988
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan