Monday, October 01, 2007

The Altruisitc Personality

The Altruistic Personality by Samuel and Pearl Olinger
...from the desk of Sir Jason

"Then let them which be in Judea flee into the
mountains. Let him which is on the housetop not come
down to take anything out of his house. Neither let
him which is in the field return to take his clothes.
And woe to them that are with child and to them that
give suck in those days!(Matt 24:17-19 KJV)

"And I will bless them that bless thee,and curse them
that curseth thee and make thy name great; and thou
shalt be a blessing(Gen 12:3)

One of the things that Materialist ideology finds hardest to comprehend is love. Materialists attempt to explain it it biological terms and if one strains enough at iconoclasm one can usually find a biological explanation. Yet in the end all those theories are, as scientists say "unfalsifiable" which is in a way a technical term for "protesting to much". Materialism cannot comprehend love.

The Altruistic Personality, though is a brave attempt to scientifically analyze it. In the end the subject is to much and it is to some degree a paean to virtue. Human virtue, whether merely human, or the type that is connected by grace to the Divine yet still remains human is a glorious thing. C.S. Lewis once said that all tyrants are alike, but all saints are different. And hearing all the variety of stories of human virtue gives pleasure like that of a gourmet receives from the various traditions of fine food and drink.
Not all possess such qualities in great amounts.

Civilization is a restraint on original sin and few of us know what we really are. We never know how evil or how good we can become, unless we are tested. The Altruistic Personality examines those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. They were different types of people, and acted from a variety of motives whether love, friendship, politics, religion,or sometimes even spite-it was after all a way of getting back at the Germans. Sometimes it was out of a sense of rightness that came from a source that wasn't recognized or
acknowledged by the rescuer.

No one could ultimately know who it would be. One person's love for his fellows could turn out to have been merely a lazy superficial amiability. Another persons seeming misanthropy could mask a grim
determination to do what was right. Some of the rescuers were even anti-Semites, but conscience could defeat prejudice. And sometimes even a Jew might betray his kinfolk out of cowardice or greed. You
never knew.

Some of the rescuers considered it a facet of The Resistance. Zionists who were one of the most pugnacious political factions in Europe at the time and had chapters wherever there were Jews. They were of course eager to participate in rescuing and quite efficiently (they were also skillful in helping to reduce Germany's surplus population when chance allowed). Communists interestingly enough often helped-and they were the most skilled conspirators in Europe. Governments-in-Exile at times considered rescuing Jews a part of the Good Cause. This varied depending on circumstance.

Poland had an old anti-semitic tradition; but few things unite more than having the same enemy. Despite that there was less cooperation between Gentile and Jewish resistance groups then should have been. This was often more a matter of faulty diplomacy then prejudice. However, it was not unknown for Jews and Poles to be in a state of
blood feud. Equally, thousands of Poles died helping Jews either individually or in an "official" capacity as part of the resistance.

Too little, too late was a common theme in many places in Europe besides Poland. The reasons had variations because of the competence of the rescuers and the effort of authorities to interfere. Sometimes whole nations could become a rescue conspiracy. This could happen even in German vassals. Italy was perhaps most interesting in this regard.

Italy is often, not always unjustly mocked for it's poor military performance then. But it's performance was superb as rescuers. They were officially anti-Semite but of course really were too intelligent to pay much heed. In effect Don Mussolini tacitly spread the word to his Capos that he didn't care that much and the Capos proved as effective at hiding refugees as their American cousins were at hiding rum. In the Balkans the Italian military authorities actually protected Jews openly. This started when a number of
Italian soldiers spontaneously rescued some Jews from a pogrom by the Croats.

Perhaps most interesting were individuals and small groups. These could be families, fraternities, churches, or informal networks of friends and acquaintances. Some of course were actually married to
Jews and had no intention of betraying their partners. Others did so out of pity or sense of duty. Or even the sense of mischief that makes a great conspirator.

The strains could be intense. Refugees living in homes could become a burden. Many reverted to a rather childish state. And of course many were children. Some had fond recollections. In one intellectual-religious household the father remembered with pleasure
theological debates with one of his charges. And some held up under the strain by stern religious upbringing. One female Jew told a friend from a Dutch Protestant household, "Your father never touched me." The reply was, "My father touch you? What an idea!"

It was not always so happy. One wife caught her husband in an act of adultery with his charge. It says much for her forgiveness that she didn't betray them.

Sometimes sympathy could actually lead to heresy. One nun refused to let some Jewish children under her care convert. Arguably she had a responsibility to keep trust with the parents but the children were the ones to take the initiative.

There were other offenses. There were times when fugitive Jews were given Mass-which in effect insulted both faiths at once. Deception at a less shocking level was always a constant presence. Different people had to reconcile ends and means and did their best. Those that acted as agents of a political authority which could answer for
them (like the disloyal vassals, the governments-in-exile, and the Zionists) could of course argue that they were wielding Caesar's Sword and had a dispensation in that regard. Probably few bothered.

Among the surprises were of course Germans. These tended to be older Germans who had known life before Hitler. Many rescuers remembered stories of German soldiers who had "looked the other way." Interestingly, one of the safest places in Germany was Berlin.

Besides the inherent advantage of surprise, the stereotypical connection of Prussians to Nazis is more subtle. Prussia was regarded as the symbol of Central European militarism of which the Nazis were supposed to be an example. Yet it was not that simple. Few Nazis actually came from that region. For one thing, like so many bullies, Nazis were attempting to imitate manliness rather then display the real thing. The confrontation between Rolf and Captain von Trapp at the end of Sound of Music was an insightful portrayal of this. Von Trapp knew what honor was, and Rolf was simply following a tawdry imitation. In the same way the Prussian aristocracy and bourgeois were less likely than other Germans to be sincere Nazis. Many were tag-a-longs of course but some were actually anti-Nazis.

There is more in The Altruistic Personality to study. There were many variations on the theme I gave. But the real moral is that we don't know what a person will become when put to the test. And we don't know what we will become.

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1 comment:

  1. While the authors were searching for a common theme naturally enough, it was the variation I found fascinating.
    Interestingly I found communities of rescuers more interesting then individuals. Mutually reinforcing loyalty could be either used for good then or twisted to evil. The fascinating differences between rescue conspiracies of various sizes was interesting.

    Sir Jason