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The Hand of Compassion

Portraits of Moral Choice During the Holocaust

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Through moving interviews with five ordinary people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, Kristen Monroe casts new light on a question at the heart of ethics: Why do people risk their lives for strangers and what drives such moral choice? Monroe's analysis points not to traditional explanations--such as religion or reason--but to identity. The rescuers' perceptions of themselves in relation to others made their extraordinary acts spontaneous and left the rescuers no choice but to act. To turn away Jews was, for them, literally unimaginable. In the words of one German Czech rescuer, "The hand of compassion was faster than the calculus of reason." At the heart of this unusual book are interviews with the rescuers, complex human beings from all parts of the Third Reich and all walks of life: Margot, a wealthy German who saved Jews while in exile in Holland; Otto, a German living in Prague who saved more than 100 Jews and provides surprising information about the plot to kill Hitler; John, a Dutchman on the Gestapo's "Most Wanted List"; Irene, a Polish student who hid eighteen Jews in the home of the German major for whom she was keeping house; and Knud, a Danish wartime policeman who took part in the extraordinary rescue of 85 percent of his country's Jews. We listen as the rescuers themselves tell the stories of their lives and their efforts to save Jews. Monroe's analysis of these stories draws on philosophy, ethics, and political psychology to suggest why and how identity constrains our choices, both cognitively and ethically. Her work offers a powerful counterpoint to conventional arguments about rational choice and a valuable addition to the literature on ethics and moral psychology. It is a dramatic illumination of the power of identity to shape our most basic political acts, including our treatment of others. But always Monroe returns us to the rescuers, to their strong voices, reminding us that the Holocaust need not have happened and revealing the minds...

From Publishers Weekly

May 01, 2004 – What can a close examination of five exemplary people reveal about the way that all individuals make ethical decisions? This is the question that Monroe attempts to answer in this dense but fascinating treatise on moral psychology. A professor of political science and philosophy at UC Irvine, Monroe (The Heart of Altruism) conducted in-depth interviews with five people who risked their lives to rescue Jews during World War II. Irene hid 18 Polish Jews in the home of a German major; Margot had an affair with a Gestapo commander in order to obtain information for the Dutch Resistance. Otto rescued more than 100 Austrian Jews before being sent to a concentration camp himself; John organized an escape network that carried Jews to safety in Spain and Switzerland. And Knud helped engineer the rescue operation that saved 85% of Denmark's Jews. All these rescuers describe an overwhelming need to manifest virtuous behavior."There is no choice," says John,"when you have to do right, you do right." For Monroe, such statements prove that"ethical acts emerge not from choice so much as through our sense of who we are, through our identities." She gets quite academic in her arguments, referring to various scholarly theories, including Noam Chomsky's theory of language, which, she says, demonstrates that moral behavior is as universal as the parameters guiding language. While this book may serve best as a learning tool for ethics classes, the dramatic personal stories it recounts make it a compelling read for anyone interested in understanding how heroism can emerge in the face of life's mercenary realities. 10 photos.
The Hand of Compassion
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  • $24.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Oct 31, 2013
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Seller: Princeton University Press
  • Print Length: 384 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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