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Saving the Forsaken

Saving the Forsaken: Religious Culture and the Rescue of Jews in Nazi Europe

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Saving the Forsaken
    Book Description:

    Does religion encourage altruism on behalf of those who do not belong? Are the very religious more likely to be altruistic toward outsiders than those who are less religious? In this book Pearl M. Oliner examines data on Christian rescuers and nonrescuers of Jews during the Holocaust to shed light on these important questions.

    Drawing on interviews with more than five hundred Christians-Protestant and Catholic, very religious, irreligious, and moderately religious rescuers and nonrescuers living in Nazi-occupied Europe, Oliner offers a sociological perspective on the values and attitudes that distinguished each group. She presents several case studies of rescuers and nonrescuers within each group and then interprets the individual's behavior as it relates to his or her group. She finds that the value patterns of the religious groups differ significantly from one another, and she is able to highlight those factors that appear to have contributed most toward rescue within each group.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13040-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Religion and Culture
    (pp. 1-17)

    These vignettes give a sense of the wartime activities of four people, all of whom lived in occupied Europe during World War II. In each of the countries they represent, Jewish inhabitants became victims of that horrendous event known as theShoah,more commonly the Holocaust. Alexander, a very religious Christian, became a rescuer of Jews during the Holocaust, but Jacques, an equally religious Christian, did not. Irreligious Maartje became a rescuer, but equally irreligious Gosha did not. What led very religious Alexander and irreligious Maartje to become rescuers? Did they share similar values, and if so, how representative were...

  5. 2 The Very Religious
    (pp. 18-45)

    In November 1942, I received a letter from the Secretariat of the Catholic Society of the region of Toulouse. The Archbishop of Toulouse, Monsignor Saliège, had proclaimed to all the churches of the area that he was the defender and firm supporter of all the oppressed victims of the war. He had done so by having all the local priests read his letter to the parishioners of the region.

    A month later, in December 1942, and with the permission of the Bishop of Rodez, I made the decision to help rescue the persecuted. Only three other nuns and I were...

  6. 3 The Irreligious
    (pp. 46-66)

    Obviously, what helping we did had to be focused on Jews. It began almost spontaneously with my colleagues before the war, the Jewish Socialists, who hid themselves in my apartment. They simply had my address and they would come to me. Most of them wanted to leave Poland and their transfer had to be arranged. Some of them would be directed to Hungary and from there elsewhere; others would be transferred eastwards, to Japan, through the Soviet Union. They would stay in our place until we could arrange passage. That was at the beginning, right after our defeat; later it...

  7. 4 The Moderately Religious: The Mildly and Somewhat Religious
    (pp. 67-89)

    I was parachuted into France in the middle of the war where I began to organize two resistance groups. My area of operation was the southeast of France in the Alps region. One of my jobs was to gather intelligence. By chance, I ran into a friend, a major, who was stationed in Aix-en-Provence. He told me that the Germans had gathered about a hundred and five Jews in the castle of the town, and that they were planning to send them to concentration camps. I got in touch with a woman in the French Resistance—her nickname was “Chère...

  8. 5 Protestants
    (pp. 90-113)

    Solomon Rosen stayed in Berlin after his cousin emigrated. He remained behind because his wife was in the Jewish Hospital there and suffering from cancer. He had promised not to leave until she died. A contact in the Criminal Department always warned him when the Gestapo was coming to arrest him, and he simply moved out and went to another apartment. It dragged on that way for quite a while.¹

    In January 1943, I met with Bertha’s cousin. She asked me if my political convictions were the same as they had been and I answered: “Do you think I change...

  9. 6 Catholics
    (pp. 114-134)

    “Edelweiss Pirates” was a resistance group whose members were denounced as criminals and hanged if caught. The situation during the war didn’t really make their activities crimes but members were executed anyway, without a chance to defend themselves.

    A former member of a bombing squad who escaped from a concentration camp founded the group. Together with other deserters, forced laborers, and anybody who was persecuted by Nazis, our purpose was to sabotage the regime and help persecuted people. Our actions were pretty radical, and included shooting several Nazis, bombings, and looting in order to get supplies, including food for ourselves...

  10. 7 Patterns and Predictors
    (pp. 135-148)

    None of the groups here discussed qualifies as a dominantly “outgroup altruistic culture,” yet all included a small percentage of individuals who acted heroically on behalf of an outgroup. The fact that such grandeur did exist under the most grotesque of circumstances suggests something extraordinarily hopeful about the human potential for good. Exploring the degree to which it may also exist in other cultures is an enterprise worthy of investigation.

    In fact, if we bypass some of the components of conventional definitions of culture, including the one proposed here, something that might be called an outgroup altruistic culture may already...

  11. 8 Culture and Outgroup Altruism
    (pp. 149-162)

    What type of culture is most predisposed toward outgroup altruism? Answers have frequently focused on cultures called “collectivist” and “individualistic.”

    Collectivist societies—that is, societies in which individuals are strongly bonded and personal identity derives largely from the group—are allegedly most likely to engage in ingroup altruism but are unlikely to behave altruistically toward outsiders, say several social scientists. Interdependent and pressured by cultural norms to help one another and the group, persons in collectivist societies behave altruistically toward each other reasonably often. But the very characteristics that lead to frequent acts of altruism on behalf of cultural cohorts...

  12. Appendix A Methodology
    (pp. 163-170)
  13. Appendix B Tables and Figures
    (pp. 171-226)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-240)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 241-258)
  16. Index
    (pp. 259-264)