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Dorpat, T.L. (1990). The Altruistic Personality Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe by Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner New York: The Free Press, 1988, xxv + 419 pp., $24.95. Psa. Books, 1(4):507-515.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Books, 1(4):507-515

The Altruistic Personality Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe by Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner New York: The Free Press, 1988, xxv + 419 pp., $24.95

Review by:
Theodore L. Dorpat, M.D.

This book is the product of a research study on the people who rescued Jews during the Nazi era in Europe. The study attempted to answer the question, Why did ordinary men and women risk their lives on behalf of others? The foreword to the book is written by Rabbi Schulweis, who explains that the social sciences have neglected the subject of altruism and that the project called the Altruistic Personality Project, out of which this book derives, is unique. The project opens up a much neglected area in the social sciences. In the preface, one author, Samuel Oliner, tells of his own rescue in 1942 by a friendly Pole and about how his interest in rescuers came out of his own experience. Between 50,000 and 500,000 non-Jews risked their lives and those of their families to help Jews survive during the Nazi occupation, and the authors regard the rescue of Jews as an example of altruistic behavior.

Two basic questions guided the investigations of the authors: 1) Was rescue a matter of opportunity—that is, the consequence of particular facilitating external circumstances? If so, what were they? 2) Was rescue a matter of the personal predisposition and personality attitudes of the rescuer? To find the answers to these questions, the researchers interviewed 682 individuals—406 rescuers, 126 nonrescuers, and 150 rescued survivors—who lived in Nazi-occupied Europe during the war.

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