THE VIRTUOUS AND THE VICIOUS
The terms “virtuous” and “vicious” are used in a specific way here to refer to people who rescued victims of the Nazis or, on the other hand, turned them over to the enemy. The terms, however, are in some ways misleading. There were virtuous people in every country affected by the Holocaust: many men and women risked their lives to save Jewish lives. By now we have, indeed, learned a great deal about these individuals, known today as Righteous Gentiles. And there were vicious collaborators who—for money, Jewish property, or out of politics or hatred—betrayed Jews to their murderers. But for all those who may fit into these two categories, there were others who can't neatly be classified as virtuous or vicious—people who, as if in passing, helped or hindered Jews a bit along the way to life or death, sent them on with a dash of hope or a slash of despair. Furthermore, people from whom Jews sought help, or at least human kindness, often had mixed motives.
Thus, for the Jews, it was usually quite unclear who—among fellow Jews as well as gentiles—might help them, or even when somebody might help them. In addition, the attitude toward helping the Jews was radically different in different countries, and even sometimes in different areas of one country. The stories in this section imply this broad range of people and actions, from Righteous Gentiles to betrayers. Above all, the stories define some of the ambiguity involved in the issue.
Four stories convey the quiet, strong heroism of Righteous Gentiles who hid Jews: “The Kindness of Strangers, ” “A Saintly Person, ” “The Convent in Marseilles, ” and “Among the Righteous.” The locales of these stories—Holland, the Ukraine, France, Italy, and Switzerland—show that good people were all over Europe, for the few Jews who were lucky enough to find them.
The more ambiguous themes of this section are presented initially in the first story, “A Narrow Escape.” Here we see a child's point of view, confusedly working through the moral issues of just what is a betrayal, and why it is that one person gives only a little begrudged help while another risks all to rescue Jewish victims. The moral issue is subtly repeated in “The Killing Hunger, ” which again deals with a child's confusion over what people will do to or for each other. “The Volunteer Group, ” a story about a Jewish Kapo (overseer in the