Stealth Altru­ism

Arthur B. Shostak
  • Review
By – April 24, 2017

Though it has been near­ly sev­en­ty years since the Holo­caust, the human capac­i­ty for evil dis­played by its per­pe­tra­tors is still shock­ing and haunt­ing. But the sto­ry of the Nazi attempt to anni­hi­late Euro­pean Jew­ry is not all we should remem­ber. Stealth Altru­ism tells of secret, non-mil­i­tant, high-risk efforts by Car­ers,” those vic­tims who tried to reduce suf­fer­ing and improve everyone’s chances of sur­vival. Their empow­er­ing acts of altru­ism remind us of our inher­ent long­ing to do good even in sit­u­a­tions of extra­or­di­nary brutality.

Arthur B. Shostak explores for­bid­den acts of kind­ness, such as shar­ing scarce cloth­ing and food rations, hold­ing up weak­ened fel­low pris­on­ers dur­ing roll call, secret­ly replac­ing an ail­ing friend in an exhaust­ing work detail, and much more. He explores the moti­va­tion behind this dan­ger­ous behav­ior, how it dif­fered when in or out of sight, who pro­vid­ed or under­mined for­bid­den care, the dif­fer­ing expe­ri­ences of men and women, how and why gen­tiles pro­vid­ed aid, and, most impor­tant­ly, how might the cost­ly obscu­ri­ty of stealth altru­ism soon be corrected.

To date, memo­ri­al­iza­tion has empha­sized what was done to vic­tims and side­lined what vic­tims tried to do for one anoth­er. Car­ers” pro­vide an inspir­ing mod­el and their per­ilous efforts should be rec­og­nized and taught along­side the hor­rors of the Holo­caust. Human­i­ty needs such inspiration.

Aaron Ritzen­berg is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in the Depart­ment of Eng­lish and Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture at Bran­deis University.

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