Saving the Forsaken

Saving the Forsaken
Pearl M. Oliner

If this book had carried an epigraph, it might have been “A little religion is a dangerous thing.” For one of the striking conclusions of this sociological study of altruistic behavior among non-Jewish Europeans toward Jews during the Holocaust is that the mildly religious, not the very religious or the adamantly irreligious, were least likely to show it. The author, Pearl Oliner, heads (with her husband Sam) the Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute at Humboldt State University. Saving the Forsaken is based on the Oliners’ interviews with several hundred elderly Europeans in the 1980s. The subjects were asked to reflect on their activities during what Germans today call the Nazi-time.

The Oliners’ 1988 book, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe, was based on the same data. It drew the praise of David Gushee, a moral theologian at Union University and the author of The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: A Christian Interpretation (1994). Gushee called their book “the largest rescuer study to date,” and drew on it heavily for his own book.

The Oliners’ interviewees included Catholics and Protestants, the religious and irreligious, rescuers of Jews and bystanders. They located most of their interviewees through Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to Holocaust victims that verifies, documents, and honors rescue activity. Saving the Forsaken, solely the work of Pearl...

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About the Author

Ernest Rubinstein is the theology librarian at Drew University and the author of Religion and the Muse: The Vexed Relation between Religion and Western Literature (SUNY Press, 2007).