When Light Pierced the Darkness by Nechama Tec
“Altruism: Concern for the welfare of others, as opposed to egoism; selflessness” (American 99). In her book entitled When Light Pierced the Darkness, Nechama Tec asserts that people who aided Jews during the Nazi Holocaust may have acted altruistically; however, they did so under a modified definition of altruism. Furthermore, she offers her own definition of altruism within the context of the Holocaust and designates six traits, which she found rescuers of Jews to exhibit. While many of these traits are apparent in the personalities of characters in the films: Shop on Main Street, Cold Days, Divided We Fall, and Europa Europa, some of them are glaringly absent.
Tec offers the general definition of altruism, “…doing things for others without expectation of external rewards” (Tec 151). She indicates that this definition does not apply to people who saved Jews because it does not take into account the tremendous amount of risk (e.g., the possibility of losing one’s life) involved in their actions. Consequently, she offers the biological science definition of altruism, “…self destructive behavior performed for the benefit of others,” which she perceives to be more applicable to the exploits of non-Jews who rescued Jews (151). Moreover, Tec personally defines altruism within the context of the Nazi Holocaust as, “… that [behavior] which is carried out to benefit another?with a possibility of very high, rather than inconsequential, personal costs to the giver” (151). In addition, within the parameters of this broad definition she offers two sub-definitions: normative altruism and autonomous altruism. Tec explains that normative altruism (e.g., a father donating a kidney to a child) is the type of altruism, which is stipulated, condoned, and rewarded by society (152). Conversely, “…autonomous altruism refers to selfless help, which is neither reinforced nor rewarded by society,” a definition that she believes applies to those who risked their own well-being to aid Jews (152).
While many people who consistently came to the aid of Jews during the Holocaust definitely belong in the autonomous altruism category, Tec established that six traits were prominent in the character of rescuers. These traits are, “(1) The inability of the rescuer to blend with the environment…an Individuality or Separateness…(2) A high level of independence or self-reliance that causes these individuals to pursue specific goals regardless of how these goals are viewed by others. (3) An enduring strong commitment to help the needy that began before the war and that included a wide range of activities. (4) A matter-of-fact attitude toward rescue that sees it as a mere duty…(5) An unplanned beginning to rescue efforts. (6) A universalistic perception of the needy; the ability to disregard and set aside all attributes of the needy except their dependence and helplessness” (Tec 154).
In the film Shop on Main...