By Carrie Burns, PhD
Compared to the number of victims in the Holocaust, the number of rescuers is shamefully small, yet even as I type these words, I am cognizant of the penalties the Nazis meted-out for helping the Jewish people - in Poland, it was the death penalty and elsewhere in Europe, punishment ranged from interrogation to torture to imprisonment and death, not only for the rescuer, but also for the rescuer's family. Split-second decisions had to be made that could cost the life of the Jewish family in need, the rescuers or both. It was costly to get involved.
Columbia University published a study in 2007 after interviewing 150 non-Jewish adults who were in close proximity to the Jews during the war and who either rescued at least one Jewish person or who stood by, staying out of it. Researchers found that "rescuers showed significantly higher levels of social responsibility, empathy, risk-taking, and 'altruistic moral reasoning' (which means they seem to respond with care and compassion in the face of human suffering)."* In other words, the study said, the difference between a rescuer and a bystander amounted to character.
"None of us did enough. No one can say to themselves that they had done enough other than those who died helping others. Only they have done enough."
This man, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, said these words. I became familiar with him because Dr. Piotr Cywinski, the Director of Auschwitz-Birkenau, dedicated his book, Epitaph, to him and so I looked him up to see why.
Bartoszewski, a Polish Catholic, was rounded-up by the German Nazis with 2000 other innocent civilians in September, 1940. He was sentenced to Auschwitz where he was confined until the Red Cross managed to get him out in April 1941. Here he is after his initiation into Auschwitz:
Even after his release and first-hand knowledge of the horror of Auschwitz, Bartoszewski bravely fought on through his illegal underground studies, organizations, publications, and ?agota, the group in Poland that helped Jews during the Holocaust. He fought in the Warsaw Uprising, and then after the war, was again falsely accused and imprisoned twice by the Stalinist regime in Poland for a total of 4 years.
His scholarly pursuits eventually brought him to Israel where he lived to do his work at Yad Vashem. Indeed, Yad Vashem honored him with the title of Righteous Among the Nations for his help in rescuing Jews.
Dedication & Humility
A man of this stature said, "None of us did enough, only those who died helping others did enough". It is a staggering statement from someone who did more in one lifetime to risk himself for others than ten thousand thousand. His character aligns with the Columbia University study and any study for that matter, and it is understandable why Dr. Cywi?ski dedicated his book to him. The Holocaust brought greatness to the surface. It is lives like this that make the study of this topic so meaningful.
Who is wise and understanding among you?
Let him show it by his good deeds done in
the humility that comes from wisdom.
James 3:13 (NIV)
If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!
Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, "But we knew nothing about this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?
Proverbs 24: 10-12 (NIV)
"Courageous altruism: Personal and situational correlates of rescue during the Holocaust". Stephanie Fagin-Jones and Elizabeth Midlarsky, The Journal of positive Psychology, published online 13 April 2007 (www.tandfonline.com)
*W?adys?aw Bartoszewski, Moya Jerozolima. Moj Izrael, 2005: Dr. Piotr MA Cywi?ski, Epitaph, p. 169.
: Dr. Carrie Burns is the International Liaison for Ezra International as well as a Holocaust educator. In 2016, she volunteered in Poland for four months at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former German Nazi Concentration and Death Camp. While there, she kept a blog of her extraordinary experiences and walk with God. This article is one of her posts.