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The Face of the Other: Reflections on the Motivations of Gentile Rescuers of Jews

Mordecai Paldiel
  1. Nechama Tec, When Light Pierced the Darkness; New York: Oxford Uni., 1984. Samuel & Pearl Oliner, The Altruistic Personality. New York: Free Press, 1988. Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage; New York: Doubleday, 1994.
  2. Unless otherwise indicated, all rescue stories and their authors appearing in this paper are listed in alphabetical order in note 12.
  3. Gay Block and Malka Drucker, Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1992; page 55.
  4. Block & Drucker, page 34.
  5. Karski Jan, Story of a Secret State; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1944; chapter 29.
  6. This was several months after Nazi Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels, had triumphantly declared that Berlin was Judenrein – cleaned out of Jews.
  7. The rescuers were Jozef and Luba Kasper. For many generations, a sizable ethnic Czech community inhabited the Rovno area. After the war, they were repatriated to Czechoslovakia.
  8. James Mensch, “Rescue and the Fate to Face,” St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada (unpublished), page 12.
  9. James Mensch, p. 12. Also, by same author, “Death and the Other: A Shared Premise (unpublished). I am particularly indebted to Prof. Mensch for his insightful interpretation of Levinas’ thought.
  10. For more by Levinas, see Emmanuel Levinas, Total and Infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne Uni., 1969; also: Alterity & Transcendence. London: Athlone, and New York: Columbia Uni., 1999. Also, Ze’ev Levy, “The Concept of ‘the Other’ in Levinas’ Ethics,” Daat (Hebrew) 30, 1993; 21-40; Elisabeth Goldwyn & Yoram Verta, “Toward the Other: Emmanuel Levinas,” Shadmot (Hebrew) 10, 1999. In interpreting Levinas’ philosophy, Mensch advances the interesting observation that it is God that the Holocaust rescuer confronts in the face to face meeting. The God that cannot be represented, the God that transcends the natural world, appears in the form of the Jew who knocks on the door. God’s being, as totally other-worldly, can only appear as a lack of worldly content (such as poverty and persecution). Such worldly privation is God’s manifestation – in the guise of the abandoned, the unfortunate, and the wretched. It is the God who appears as an appeal, and a call to respond. This God was present during the Holocaust; “he appeared each time the Jew knocked on the door.” However, only a precious few, the rescuers, recognized this. Mensch, “Rescue and the Face to Face, page 10. Compare with Pastor John Cazalis’ christological perception of his help to Jews in France – the Jew in the form of the Crucified. "In everyone of them, whoever he was, it was the Christ who came toward us, in the form of the rejected one, the condemned and crucified. In loving them, it is His love that we received. When they invaded our homes and lives.., it was His mercy and joy that came into play... On each occasion as well, we knew afterwards that He had blessed us." Georges Casalis, in Emile C. Fabre, ed., Les Clandestins de Dieu; Paris: Fayard, 1968; pp. 203-204.
  11. Primo Levi, If this is a Man. London: Orion, 1959; pp. 127-8.