The Hand of Compassion: Portraits of Moral Choice During the Holocaust

Kristen Renwick Monroe, Author
Kristen Renwick Monroe, Author Princeton University Press $52 (361p) ISBN 978-0-691-11863-5
Reviewed on: 05/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-4008-4957-4
Open Ebook - 382 pages - 978-1-306-04624-4
Paperback - 361 pages - 978-0-691-12773-6
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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.
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