THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER
30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program
2-11-1998 Fourteenth Program in Series
Guest: Dr. Samuel Oliner
Book: Altruistic Personality: Rescuers Of Jews In Nazi Europe
ISBN-10: 0029238293 and ISBN-13: 978-0029238295
Roger: Welcome once again, ladies and gentlemen, to our Wednesday night special, the Holocaust Series. It will be over in a few weeks. It’s been a great pleasure. I want to once again thank Chey Simonton and Kelleigh Nelson for all their effort in helping me locate some of the great authors and survivors and onlookers to talk about this tragic time in world history. It’s really tough, I know, week after week; but, we’re leading up to something, ladies and gentlemen, a climax that will shake your very soul. I can’t say much more about it; but, hang in there with us because this is really going somewhere!
We have a wonderful guest this evening. I’ve been thumbing through the book today and it’s just fascinating! The book is titled, “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe.” It’s just a fascinating book, a collection, and anthology—- just stories of people who put everything on the line, trying to do something innately good, something not found often in the human character, I must tell you!
Our guest is Dr. Samuel Oliner. He is Project Director of the Altruistic Personality and the Prosocial Behavior Institute. He’s a survivor of the holocaust and has written “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe,” “Who Shall Live: the Wilhelm Bachner Story,” and “Restless Memories: Recollections of the Holocaust Years.”
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome Samuel Oliner to the program! Sam, how are you?
Dr. Oliner: I’m very well! How are you, Roger?
Roger: I’m doing just great, Sam! This is really a great book because you touch on an aspect that is not often talked about. When we talk about Nazi Germany generally, we just think of all the bad people, all the evil and all of the hell! I suppose it is depicted about as well have I’ve read it in your book, in the Forward, the first paragraph! Somebody else wrote your Forward, didn’t they?
Dr. Oliner: A renowned man of the cloth, Rabbi Harold Schulweis wrote the preface.
Roger: Let me read that first paragraph, just to set the tone here:
Victor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, recalls lying at night in his bunk at Auschwitz. Next to him his fellow inmate lay tossing and turning, uttering tortured screams. Frankl wondered whether he should rouse him from his dreams. But rouse him–to what?
At Auschwitz reality was more frightening than nightmares. Frankl decided to let him alone.
That’s a powerful paragraph and it just really brings it home! That your worst nightmare couldn’t be as bad as what we’ve always observed in Nazi Germany! Terrible stuff! But you found some goodness there, you’re saying?
Dr. Oliner: Yes. As you said already, Roger, I was rescued myself in Nazi occupied Poland by a wonderful, beautiful, simple peasant woman and her family in the southern part of Poland. This happened, right after my entire family,everyone that I loved, along with 1,000 other people from a tiny little ghetto in Poland were all taken to a mass grave and executed!
My stepmother’s last words to me were, “You’ve got to run… you’ve got to hide… you’ve got to save yourself!” Of course, a 12 year-old boy didn’t know much so she gave me permission to survive.
Roger: Well, I read your story, Sam, how you shinnied up to the roof and stayed up there on the roof for a couple of days, then you came down off the roof and ran into a Polish child that you’d known in the ghetto and you ended up in a fight with him. He ran off and you spent the night in a closet. It was just a fascinating story! A 12 year-old kid to go through that! I can’t even imagine it!
Dr. Oliner: I often wonder whether I would be able to do this again. I guess the will to survive is so strong so you always feel that somehow or other you’ll make it, especially when your parents, your loving stepmother tells you to go and hide, run and survive. This kid was a kid who was an anti-Semitic kid! He didn’t like Jewish people particularly so his objective, because the ghetto was being searched as a mop up action by the Nazis, his objective was to let the guards know that here was a Jew-boy and betray me. So, the only solution I had was to pounce on him and pulverize him so that I could get away through the hole in the fence and run away across the field!
Roger: Now, you were in your pajamas?
Dr. Oliner: Right. We need to back up for just a second! Why I was in pajamas….
Friday morning, very early in the morning, August 14, 1942 the Nazis surrounded the ghetto very early, brought dozens and dozens of huge miliary trucks into the square of the town, the ghetto. They went around knocking on doors and asking all people to get out and move to the square upon penalty of death! In a state of trance and shock, I was still in my pajamas. Hundreds and hundreds of people were brutally led into the square and then loaded into the trucks and subsequently took them to a mass grave! So, that’s how I found myself in pajamas.
In a state of fear and trance I was hiding in various places. Finally I was able to get some clothing and tried to make a break for it, run to the fence where I knew there was a hole… and this kid saw me. He tried to notify the guards who were mopping up the place.
I escaped and was wandering in a state of fear and fright. I already knew, from nearby peasants, where they took my entire family and the rest of the ghetto people, they took them to a pre-dug mass grave, a little hill probably 8 or 9 miles from the ghetto. They undressed them all, forcibly humiliating them and dragged them all into the mass grave where there planks were laid. They were machine-gunned, falling down either wounded or from fright. At the end of 18 hours, they covered them up with chemicals and dirt. Lots of bodies were still moving! Subsequently, one man who escaped from the top of the pile of bodies, his mind snapped and he became totally insane with the shock. Of course, the Nazis caught him a few days later and finished him off too.
So, I escaped and wandered around the village a little while, then I thought of this Polish family of a woman named Balwina. She saw me and she knew exactly what happened! She saw me, she took me in, she calmed me down and hid me for a while because there were also certain individuals (not too many) who made their living catching Jews and delivering them to the Gestapo. That means betraying Jewish people who were hiding and those Polish Catholics who were hiding them!
She kept me for a while and taught me the catechism. I changed my name to a typical Polish name and then went from village to village – she directed me in that area – and I found a job as a stable boy, ironically at a Jewish farm where the Jewish owners had been exterminated and the place was rented to an anti-semitic man by the Nazis. She and her son kept an eye on me throughout the balance of the years. She helped me authenticate my lie because I did nothing but lie to this new employer. He wanted to know who I was and where I was from, what kind of payment I wanted to be his stable boy; so she helped me survive that way!
This act of kindness by this one woman’s family, I could never forget! In some ways it motivated the rest of my life in the sense that when I came to this country as an immigrant in 1950 (by the way, I was almost immediately drafted into the Korean War) I got my U.S. citizenship quickly. When I got my PhD from the University of California in Berkeley I studied much about “evil.” I did all kinds of research on “evil”; racism, anti-Semitism, genocide, holocaust, intolerance generally.
Roger: Let’s talk about for a minute because I’m trying to imagine, first of all, what does a 12 year-old boy, meandering down a muddy trail right after his parents have been killed, what is going through a 12 year-old’s mind at that point?
Dr. Oliner: Well, disbelief at first, that it couldn’t have happened, a kind of denial! Then a kind of fear and cunning because you wanted to survive. You were told to survive! You were given instructions by a loving adult. Then I was fortunate enough to be guided by compassionate, loving people.
Roger: Did you hate, Sam?
Dr. Oliner: Yes, I did. I did; but, right after the war, for instance, in 1945 I was a 15-1/2-year-old kid and I found myself in Germany in the American zone of occupation. I’d been in the middle of Germany so I hated Germans with great passion! I discovered as I grew older that hate in itself is destructive.
Roger: Isn’t hate evil?
Dr. Oliner: Extremely evil! And it was actually destroying me, my hatred! That’s one of the reason I subsequently studied so much about “evil”. One day at Humboldt State University in Northern California where I have worked for about 29 years or so, I introduced a course on The Holocaust because believe it or not, Roger, there are still people today in certain parts of the US and other parts of the world, that think the Holocaust is a hoax, it’s Jewish conspiracy to defraud, hoodwink humanity! When I heard this I became extremely angry as an adult, as a GI, has a PhD in Sociology.
I asked my Dean for permission to introduce a course on The Holocaust. When I did that — what do you talk about in a course on The Holocaust? Just the dates, the names, the places, the evil, the Auschwitz, the murders, the films, the documentaries of evil?
In one of my classes, and this is another pivotal point in my life, a young German woman who was married to an American boy, got up on the fourth or fifth day of my class and with a German accent and said to me in tears, “Professor, I’ve got to drop your class, not because it’s bad, not because your information is not valuable; but, because I feel so guilty–what my people did to your people.” I was moved to tears because in some ways this was an innocent woman. That single act of hers made me start thinking, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Is there anything else that happened in WW II besides the killing of 50,000,000 people— the sum total of the war itself including 6,000,000 Jews?” So I started thinking of Balwina, that woman who rescued me. That launched me and my life’s partner, my wife, Dr. Pearl Oliner — launched us on this project.
For the last 18 years we’ve been studying “Goodness”! Goodness is altruism, goodness is prosocial behavior, goodness is rescuing, goodness is hospice volunteers, goodness is the kind of heroes in this country who risk their lives to save strangers from certain death!
Roger: Sam, what is “altruism”? I mean in its purest form?
Dr. Oliner: First of all, there are a lot of sceptics out there and I’ve run across critics who say “altruism” does not exist. I say to those people, “I’m sorry to inform you; but, it exists, it’s measurable. Just like bigotry exists and is measurable, so is “goodness”!
Altruism, Roger, would be something as follows: It is an act of helping someone who will benefit from such help which involves high risk and high cost to you, the helper, the rescuer and for which you are not expecting any external reward– no checks, no medals! You are just doing it as an act of kindness, an act of humanity, an act of recognizing your fellow human being.
Roger: So, someone rushing out into the middle of the highway to save a child from a moving vehicle without regard for their own life is an altruist?
Dr. Oliner: Absolutely! As a matter of fact, our current research we’ve just begun less than a month ago is on America and Canadians who risked their lives for total strangers; saving from drowning, from burning, from various accidents, from violence, from guns, shootings and so forth. So, yes, that would be a good example of heroic altruism.
Conventional altruism, Roger, is the thousands and millions of acts of kindness, the 75,000,000 people who are unpaid volunteers in this country. If somebody paid them, they’d be earning
$150 billion dollars a year! These are examples of conventional altruism and heroic altruism. It exists! It is real! We hope and pray that more people move from the Bystander “I-don’t-care/these are not my people,” position to the position of people who intervene on behalf of humanity.
That’s what we’ve been doing, interviewing. In the book that you mentioned, “The Altruistic Personality,” which is published by the Free Press, what were doing is actually interviewing bona fide rescuers, heroes, people like the woman Balwina who saved me. For purposes of trying to find out what motivated them, Roger, we compared them to a group of bystanders. We wanted to know what the difference was between them. That’s what this research was about. It’s a kind of systematic social science research. It goes beyond simple anecdotes. The anecdotes that you kindly recited, referred to are simply anecdotes of heroism; but, the analysis of these 800 respondents that we have done over a period of 8 years — which was from Poland, from Germany and from the United States, those rescuers that came to the United States after the war, from Canada, France, Italy and even Norway–from this we had a combination of some 800 rescuers and bystanders.
From this data we drew some conclusions about what makes a compassionate person which we are kind of proud of. It’s been critiqued and quite well-accepted by …..
Roger: But, Sam, didn’t the very fact that the Holocaust happened, bring credence to the concept that man is inherently evil?
Dr. Oliner: No! No, I’m not willing to buy this! Man is born….
Roger: I mean, even the altruists in their selfless acts, get some charge out of it, don’t they?
Dr. Oliner: You asked two different questions. One question that you asked, Roger, is man inherently evil? I think that man , if you’re saying inherently—biologically or genetically evil, I don’t think there enough evidence to make a tentative…..
Roger: Well, pick a religion, Sam! We’re all born to sin! If you’re a Christian, God had to give laws to Moses. Aren’t we born evil, Sam?
Dr. Oliner: No! Because, you see, the institutions of the religions; some institutions, some religions, some books, some ideologies, some parents, some groups are able to inculcate hate in us. I know that you know there’s been some work done on twins. Take one twin and bring him up and he can become a killer, gangster, hater, racist, anti-Semite, homophobe. Take the other twin of this pair and he can become a priest, and get involved in the well-being of humanity. So, I wouldn’t say we are born evil, I would say that we have acquired it in on the road of life.
Roger: Sam, I’ve got to take a break here. If you would be so kind as to relax for a few minutes, we’ve got to get through these advertisements and we’ll be right back. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Samuel P. Oliner is our guest. He is the author of, “The Altruistic Personality.” He’s a professor at Humboldt State College in Eureka, California. I think you’re all finding him as fascinating as I do!
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Dr. Samuel P. Oliner is our guest this evening. His book is, “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe,” a book about “goodness” in man, the good, good, good people who exist in our world, or existed during the holocaust!
Sam, welcome back! I want to go back to something you said earlier. Here you are, a graduate of Berkeley, hanging out in Humboldt, deciding that because you’ve run into these crackpots who really believe the holocaust is a hoax and a Jewish conspiracy, you decided to take this cause on and teach The Holocaust. Was that an act of altruism?
Dr. Oliner: It was an act of education and information.
Roger: What was your motivation?
Dr. Oliner: My motivation was…..
Roger: I’m going to show you bastards the truth! Wasn’t that really it?
Dr. Oliner: I guess you could put it that way. Ha, ha!
Roger: No! I mean really! It didn’t really come from the “goodness” of Sam Oliner.
Dr. Oliner: It came from the rage….
Roger: The hate!
Dr. Oliner: The anger, the hate… yes.
Roger: So, you formed this class based on something evil, didn’t you really?
Dr. Oliner: No, (ha, ha) I think that I formed this class in order to deal with evil.
Roger: Samuel Oliner, PhD, UC-Berkeley…. what in the hell do you people mean who think the holocaust didn’t happen? I’ll show you! Right?
Dr. Oliner: Well, by correcting the information, I guess you could say, “I’ll show you!” It was based upon my frustration that people in the late 1960s, early 1970s could be getting away with this sort of stuff. Even currently, by the way! Take a look at the websites and you’ll find 600 to 700 hate groups viciously racist and anti-semitic!
Roger: Are they? Or are they just misinformed? I mean, has the propaganda survived the holocaust?
Dr. Oliner: I think it’s perhaps a combination of both; misinformed-yes. I think in the human psyche, that is to say; if as you are growing up you are beaten and abused….
Roger: Come on, Samuel. Jesus was a Jew and the Jews killed Jesus, so Christianity through their crusades and all the things…. those evil Jews killed Jesus, they killed our Savior, our Christ…. the Jews did that! Right? Isn’t religion the essence of goodness, your foundation? Yet, there is the evil right there….
Dr. Oliner: Sure, I agree with you 100% when you talk about the source of evil. The source of evil is–a child is not born evil; but, a child internalizes the teachings and the preachings about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
For instance, in the case of Jesus, and I’m sure there are various interpretations, I know that Jesus existed. I know that Jesus was crucified. I also know, at least from scholarship, that it was not the Jews who killed Jesus, it was the Romans. But, the Jews were delighted and happy enough because he was a rebel who showed they were corrupt, they were not caring enough, they were highly stratified….
Roger: They were evil.
Dr. Oliner: They were evil in the sense of practicing injustice and inequality.
Roger: They were evil. Right? Isn’t that what Christ was trying to point out? So, I want to make a point here. I believe, personally, that man is inherently evil, born to sin! I also believe that the people who don’t believe that the holocaust happened only do so because they don’t comprehend how evil man is because we gloss it over! We keep telling ourselves there are good people out there! Sam, are there really good people out there?
Dr. Oliner: Yes!
Roger: Really? Can you tell me about some good people?
Dr. Oliner: Yes, I can tell you about good people and I will believe for the rest of my life that humanity is basically good….
Roger: I want to believe that! I want you to convince me….
Dr. Oliner: Humanity is basically good. It is institutions, parents, role models, misguided Hitlers and leaders, it is perversion of truth that leads people along the path of hatred — also economic troubles and frustration and scapegoating. There is goodness.
Roger: Introduce me, Sam, to some people who are truly altruistic because I’m finding it hard, as I look across the landscape of my community, I’m finding it hard to find true altruism.
Dr. Oliner: Okay! Again, I would have to disagree with you. Even in your own community there are lots of people who are caring and compassionate and take care of needy, etc.
But, let me get back for a moment to the slightly larger picture. If you’re talking about goodness and altruism, I’ll start with the big ones and go on to some very exciting small ones, small heroes; you have Mother Theresa, you already know; you have Gandhi, you already know; you have Jesus, you already know, and a number of super-super altruists who lived for humanity’s sake.
Now, in the case of our research, I can tell you, first of all, there is a profound difference between rescuers and bystanders. If we have the time I’ll go into some of them. But, you want some stories.
Roger: I want you to convince there are really altruistic people out there! I don’t know that I’ve ever met one. Maybe I did and just didn’t notice!
Dr. Oliner: Well, I’m surprised that you haven’t noticed because I am sure in your daily life, in your daily relationships with people in your community, there must be individuals who have done acts of kindness for you. In turn, I’m almost sure that you’ve reciprocated in kind. So, I’m not sure that….
Roger: But, that’s socialization! I mean, we socialize…. you send me a Christmas card so I send you a Christmas card. I’ll meet you downtown at a meeting, I’ll shake your hand… that kind of thing.
Dr. Oliner: Sure! But, altruism comes from moral socialization, moral role models, moral exemplars, the parents’ instilled values into you — your mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, priests and ministers.
Roger: Sam, 6 million Jews died in Europe —13 million or so, estimated totals of gypsies, homosexuals and whoever else they didn’t like! Lot of dead people over there, Sam! Now, there couldn’t have been too many rescuers over there could there? Not too many altruistic people!
I’ve heard stories on this program, Sam, of people selling out Jews for a buck!
Dr. Oliner: Right. But, you see, it’s a question of…. Yes, I agree with you…and that’s what we did in our research. Under the Nazi occupation….there were 300 million people living in Nazi-occupied Europe; Poland and all the other occupied countries including Germany itself. Yes, in our book, we sadly take the best educated guess and there were less than 1% of those 300 million people who acted heroically and altruistically. So, yes, I agree with you that, unfortunately, there are not enough people….
Roger: So you agree that 99% of people are inherently evil?
Dr. Oliner: No, 99% of the people were bystanders, my friend. That’s not the same thing as being evil. A “bystander” is a person who is afraid, a person who feels –these people are not my people –the Nazis are going to kill me if I help somebody. Only a few times in human history was there a situation where if you, Roger, save me, and it was discovered, you’d be shot and your entire family would be exterminated, along with me! So, when you have such stringent laws that were carried out— in Poland alone there were 2,000 Catholics (and that is a fact!) who were executed along with the people they were hiding, once they were betrayed by their fellow Poles who were making a living by getting payment from the Gestapo.
So, yes, I agree with you that not enough people are altruistic. Yes, I agree that not enough people are involved with humanity. But, I’m also saying to you there is hope for the future because it is not a gene. We do not have a gene for evil. If we are socialized and treat well, taught well and our parents role model kindness and compassion, more of us can leave the status of a bystander or even a perpetrator and become a rescuer/helper. So, there is hope in this! That’s why I cannot agree that we are basically evil and doomed to remain like this because if we entertain an image like this, think of all our children and the kind of image we leave them with–that humanity is nothing be evil–and we can predict and foretell the world is alienated and separate from each other.
Goodness and altruism, in my opinion and I don’t mean to sound preachy, is the antidote to a divided world. We need more of it. We need more of it in our leaders. In the second book that we wrote, “Toward a Caring Society,” we suggest that caring and compassion can be cultivated; in the workplace, in the church place of religious institutions, in educational institutions, family and other major institutions where caring and compassion can be taught and inculcated. It doesn’t cost you anything! When you treat a group of employees with kindness, and there are lots of examples…..
Roger: I’ve got to take this break, Sam! When we come back, give me your best shot! Tell me about the most altruistic person that you’ve found in your studies. Will you do that?
Dr. Oliner: I don’t know if I can tell you “THE MOST”, but I’ll try!
Roger: We’ll be right back, ladies and gentlemen! Our guest is Dr. Sam Oliner. His book is “The Altruistic Personality.”
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! We’re talking with our guest, Dr. Samuel P. Oliner, about altruism and whether it’s really real. My feeling, of course, is that the vast majority of people, I think ALL MEN, are born evil. I do! I think it takes a lot of work to be good. I do!
But, if you read Dr. Oliner’s book, it’s filled with stories of good people; the kind of goodness that is almost as difficult to describe as the evilness of the holocaust! Sam, give me your best shot here, buddy!
Dr. Oliner: Okay, you want the best shot as far as….
Roger: I want to believe in altruism, Sam! I’ve been reading your book! I want to believe that there is goodness in man! I really do! But, I think it’s the same kind of denial that I see elsewhere, that you’re trying to find goodness where there isn’t any.
Dr. Oliner: Ha, ha! We could go on for hours…
Roger: No! Because I read your book and I see goodness there, Sam.
Dr. Oliner: Okay, just to convince you a little bit more….
Roger: First of all, before we move on any further, how can people who really want to know about the goodness of man get your book?
Dr. Oliner: That’s an easy one! It’s out in paperback. It’s “The Altruistic Personality” and is published by the Free Press. Any bookstore will have it or can order it for you.
Roger: You get into all the psychology of altruism and evil in your book. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into all of that tonight. What I’m trying to discover, the real essence of this battle between good and evil that mankind has faced since Year 1— Cain and Abel, great story, right?
We ‘ve faced this battle of good and evil forever; but, the holocaust is like this paramount, the climax of evil in modern society! It’s this incredible story that’s real, that’s so difficult to understand, that I don’t think you can understand it unless you were there! Even then, I don’t think you could really, truly grasp the evil that was underlying this incredible event. So, when you talk about altruism, these wonderful people selflessly giving to those in need, regardless of the consequences…
I mean, sure there were a few people who probably snapped and lost and their minds and did good things; but, did really sane people?
Dr. Oliner: Ha, ha! Absolutely! They were sane people. They were rational people. They were compassionate people! Let me give you a few quick examples! I don’t know how time is going?
Roger: I might have to keep you over, Sam! This is not a subject I want to let die!
Dr. Oliner: Whatever you …
Roger: You just tell me, and we feel like we’ve sufficiently covered the subject, we’ll quit.
Dr. Oliner: Fine. I am sure the many listeners that you have must have heard of Oskar Schindler, must have heard of Wallenberg. I’m not going to be speaking about them. I’m going to give you some more close-to-home figures.
Raoul Wallenberg, in Hungary, rescued between 30,000-50,000 Jews, just one man, one man in the face of Nazi persecution of these people.
Oskar Schindler, rescued about 1,200 people.
Sempo Sugihara, a Japanese, by himself saved 15,000-30,000 people when he was a diplomat in Lithuania, issuing passes to these people.
Gergio Perlasca, an Italian rescuer who took over the Spanish Embassy while the Spanish Diplomats fled when Russian armies were advancing towards Budapest. He was able to issue Spanish passports to Jews in order to save them.
The Village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in France. A friend of mine studied it very deeply and carefully. They saved about 5,000 people. A group of protestants hid these Jews in cafe’s, in churches, in basements and shed, in forests and under bridges and saved their lives!
So, I agree with you —- before I go into a few stories that I know personally, and we’ve interviewed these people—- I agree with you, Roger, that there wasn’t enough done! There were too many bystanders. There’s still too many bystanders! But, I’m saying that education and socialization away from evil and towards facts, truth and the teaching of justice can really take more millions of people away from the role of bystanders or sceptics or even bigots and turn them to people who are at least neutral, and at best empathic to other people’s pain.
Let me get to a story which I think shows you it is not random, it is not planned or anything like this! They were marching a group of people in a very famous city called Krakow, the oldest city in Poland.
Roger: You know, Sam, here’s what’s going to happen to you and me. We’re going to come up to a break here where I normally go on to other subjects. We haven’t explored this yet.
It think we have too much ground to cover and I need to ask you to stay at least another half hour or even beyond. It depends how it goes. Would that be alright with you?
Dr. Oliner: I’ll be very happy to! You sound like a very important person because by doing what you’re doing, you are inculcating goodness and I appreciate you!
Roger: Now, don’t tag me with this label of altruism. I am a man who has tried desperately to fight against evil in my own life for many years and I am trying to become what you might call a “good” person. I think I’ve come pretty close; but, I know in a heartbeat that called to answer the challenge of my own survival or basic and important, maybe political or social concepts, I could be driven to kill people in a heartbeat. I know that the warrior spirit is alive, in me and in all men! Our president is about to go and blow up Iraq because we don’t like them denying us the inspections of their facilities. We are warriors, we are murders, we are takers, we are conquerors….
Dr. Oliner: …. And we are compassionate people as well!
Roger: Yes, well, after the bloodletting we’re always compassionate when we come down from our festive high. We’ll be back to continue this discussion with Dr. Sam Oliner! He’s a fantastic guy and the book is fantastic! It you read the book you will believe in goodness! “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe”. Get it at your bookstore! We’ll be right back!
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Our guest this evening is Dr. Sam Oliner. He’s a professor at Humbolt State in California. The book we’re talking about relates to the holocaust, an incredible book he and his wife wrote called, “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe” — what led ordinary men and women to risk their lives on behalf of others?
Sam and I have been having a little discourse. I believe that all men are born inherently evil; yet, I have evidence before me in Sam’s book that is not exactly true. I’m suffering now in personal crisis trying to overcome it, ladies and gentlemen, but I will before this program is over. Ha, ha! I suppose there are some good people out there; but, I think there are damn few of them! We’ll take some calls from listeners in a bit.
Sam, welcome back!
Dr. Oliner: Thank you.
Roger: Alright, the altruistic personality we’ve been talking about, how do we know…. you and I were talking about some of these great names from history…how do we know they didn’t do these things just for history’s sake?
Dr. Oliner: Well, you asked a very good question. You know that I like to talk to you because you ask very good questions! First of all, altruism… I defined it for you and I said that altruism does not mean that you’re selfless, that you are always altruistic, that you never do anything bad or unjust or unfair. It means that most of the time you do something kind and compassionate. What I’m trying to say is that the fact that Wallenberg or one of the people who I’m going to talk about, I have 100s of case here, they helped other people without expecting external reward; but, internal reward–definitely! Internal reward is the feeling good about yourself, feeling you did something right, feeling you might get some praise from your loved ones and approval. So, Wallenberg did this because he was a diplomat saving 30,000-50,000 Jews. But, he also probably felt very good about this.
If you call it selfish — I’m going to do something kind for Roger so I will feel good about it— that’s fine! There’s nothing wrong when a corporation does something for people, for their employees, and they get harder-working, more loyal workers in return, there’s nothing wrong with that. The thing is internal reward is what counts. They achieve exactly the opposite of what PG&E or some other corporation that does something for the people; but, something for himself as well. Namely, he feels good about this; but, at the same time, in the world of work, you may get better workers. Internal reward could be called selfish if it’s done for selfish reasons, I don’t know. It could be said that way; but, that doesn’t deny the existence of altruism just because you did it for internal reward.
Roger: Isn’t ego a sin? Isn’t pride a sin?
Dr. Oliner: No, absolutely not! Ego is not a sin! If you have a healthy ego it makes you a healthy person. Pride may be a sin if it’s avarice and greed and violence and destroying someone else. That’s a sin! Not pride, unless you have too much pride that leads to arrogance. Pride and a healthy ego— there’s nothing wrong with that! As as matter of fact, a guy like Wallenberg who tragically died in a Soviet prison…the irony of history, a man who did so much to save lives, the Soviets arrested him and he rotted in prison.
Roger: But, Sam, nobody would come to the aid of the Jews.
Dr. Oliner: That’s not true….
Roger: You know the president of the United States. He knew what was going on in Germany, in Europe! You know, Sam, that if the America people had known, IF THEY HAD KNOWN they wouldn’t have done anything! The American people were upset because Pearl Harbor got bombed and they were going to get those Japanese! But, they didn’t care that Jews and others were being slaughtered by the millions in Europe! Come on!
Dr. Oliner: That is true…
Roger: They didn’t care! Where’s the altruism there?
Dr. Oliner: Altruism is right away an individual thing….
Roger: Sam, 24 million African citizens have died in the last decade!
Dr. Oliner: 24 million? … African?…. citizens?
Roger: Yes, from war, aids, whatever. It’s terrible! Nobody cares! There’s not a lot of people rushing off to Africa to help, are there?
Dr. Oliner: You’re right! It’s a tragic situation. Too many of us are bystanders. Our government is a bystander frequently, politics are bystanders, powers are bystanders. All of this is geo-politics and all that.
In the case of countries during the holocaust, it is true that some individuals in the State Department couldn’t care less because they were anti-Semitic. On the other hand, even when you look at other cultures….. for instance, Denmark. I’m sure you’ve heard of the situation in Denmark during the war. The notion that when the Nazis finally decided that the Danish people had better give up their 8,000-9,000 Jews to extermination in Auschwitz, the people refused! The people refused! King Christian X refused. The government refused and hid them and transported them across the water to neutral Sweden. Bulgaria, for instance, did something! In Greece, the City of Salonika saved most of their Jews, so everybody was not a bystander. But, I have to agree with you, too many people were bystanders then….
Roger: Are they bystanders or is it really, at its root, guttural level cowardice?
Dr. Oliner: I don’t like the word cowardice.
Dr. Oliner: Because coward would imply that you had an opportunity and your leaders, ministers and churches told you to do something and you were too afraid. I think a better explanation is a bystander is a person who see a tragedy and finds a reason for not doing something for no one has defined for them that they ought to do something about it. He is not informed enough, involved enough. So, I think a bystander is a better term than just a coward. A coward is someone who runs away and hides.
Roger: Let’s explore that because you get into the psychology pretty heavy! Let’s explore that! I walk up to some Polish woman and I am some anti-semitic Polish officer serving in the SS and I ask her what she thinks of Jews, like Peter in the Bible. What does she say? “They’re not even people, those Jews! They’re animals!”
Dr. Oliner: There are some people like that.
Roger: Isn’t that cowardice when deep down inside this Polish woman may have no animosity at all towards Jews?
Dr. Oliner: Cowardice, in that sense, is saying you don’t want to rock the boat and you don’t want to get involved. You don’t want the policeman or the Nazi to call you a Jew-lover. In this country the word would be Nigger-lover, if you’re pro-African American.
Since you mention this woman, let me give you a story that’s just the opposite and see if you agree with me.
Roger: You tell me the story, then we’ll take a couple of calls and you can give me another story!
Dr. Oliner: Okay! Well, as I started saying before about this beautiful city, Krakow, Poland that has the most ancient university in the world. They were marching a group of a thousand Jews to the railroad station to the cattle cars. A Jewish woman has a small little infant and she knows, somehow deep in her heart she knows that the end is coming. So she sees some people on the sidewalk of Krakow, sees a blond woman standing there. She sneaks away from this column and runs over to the Polish woman and says, “Please, I beg you ma’am, to save my child! They’re going to kill her! I beg you to save my child!”
This blond woman takes this 5 month old child, takes it home. She lives on the 3rd floor of an apartment. She was neither pregnant or married and the neighbors begin to suspect that it may be a Jewish child. As evil would have it, someone reported her to the police, namely the Polish police in the service of the Nazis. (They were not exactly popular after the war.) Anyway, the Polish police come and arrest this woman with the child and she’s brought to the police station, to a big room with 6 to 10 police officers sitting around their desks. They sat her down to a desk to wait for the captain to arrive. The Polish captain arrived and he looks at her and barks, “This is not your child, lady! This is a Jewish child, isn’t it!”
By divine intervention, this woman breaks into Academy Award tears, pounds the desk and says, “You should be ashamed of yourself! Are you men? Are you Poles? You call yourselves human beings? One man in this room has fathered this child,” and she looks around the room at the men sitting there, “ and he called it a Jew so it would be exterminated and he wouldn’t have to take responsibility for it!”
Now, you tell me, why did she do that? What kind of evil is that? For the rest of the war, she was able to save this child! There are people like that! Their stories ought to be known! They ought to be in history books! The Schindler’s and the Wallenbergs ought to be in the history books because they’re more important than Hitler, Himmler and Eichmann.
The point I’m trying to make here is that’s the social science interpretation; that altruistic and compassionate people are made— they’re brought up! Here’s an example of compassion, social responsibility. And by the way, as a P.S., the child grew up and is a scientist now. He’s no longer a child— ha, ha! — the woman is still alive and we had the privilege of interviewing both of them!
The State of Israel has an institution called Yad Vashem where they recognize from 15,000 to 18,000 of what they call Righteous Gentiles. I know this is a tiny little percentage; but, it is something to be put in history books and it helps us to straighten out a little bit of the distorted image of the cynicism that everything is evil, nobody cares and man is nasty and brutish!
I think we’ve got to fight that kind of image! Teachers are trying to do something about it, little by little, by teaching courage, character development, prosocial behavior. I think there’s hope! I think there’s hope because the alternative is nothing but despair. I’ve got thousands of stories I don’t have time to go into….
Roger: Let’s take a call or two and see what our listeners are thinking about our discussion. We’re going to Brian in Springfield. Brian, welcome!
Caller-Brian: I want to sorry because I’m going to have to stand behind Sam on this one!
Dr. Oliner: Thank you!
Caller-Brian: I believe there are altruistic people out there and it’s not human to be “born evil”. It’s just ignorant!
Roger: Well, were our founding fathers of America ignorant when they slaughtered the Native American Indians?
Caller-Brian: Of course!
Roger: Were the Spanish conquistadors ignorant when they slaughtered the Mexican peasants and the Incas and the Mayans?
Caller-Brian: Of course!
Roger: Was Alexander the Great ignorant when he conquered Persia?
Caller-Brian: I can’t answer that one.
Dr. Oliner: I think the question…. can I get into this, too?
Roger: Yes, absolutely! That’s why you’re here!
Dr. Oliner: I didn’t know how that works. The question that you’re asking about our founding fathers and slavery…. it is obviously within a tradition, with the teachings, within the arrogance of our culture. It is born out of our misinformation about other human beings, thinking that Blacks and Native Americans were savages without a soul, beasts of burden! So, I agree with Brian that it is a form of ignorance! It’s mis-education, under-education!
Roger: So, was God ignorant when he brought the rains and flooded the planet and only Noah and his family survived?
Caller-Brian: He brought the winter on to actually stop the Nazis as they marched into Russia! He helped us out there!
Roger: Alright, Brian! I appreciate that! Thank you very much!
Samuel, I am trying to grasp this. I know from going through your book there are some wonderful people in your book! I know there are some wonderful people; but, I don’t know if it’s our nature to be good. You seem to lead to that conclusion in your book. That it is our nature…
Dr. Oliner: Probably not our nature. When a child is born and you see your child for the first time, you don’t know what it’s nature will be. But, you can probably take a very, very good educated guess that if your child is loved and nurtured, taught the right values and tolerance, if I was a betting man I’d say there’s a 95% chance he or she will grow up to be a decent, caring person because you would be the role model.
Roger: Alright! Let’s take that decent, caring person and piss them off, fill them with hate, fill them with rage! Give them a reason, then where do they go?
Dr. Oliner: The decent, caring, compassionate person will probably buy less of the propaganda, will internalize less hate, will probably see two sides of the coin rather than only one side of the coin.
If you look at the people who joined the Nazi movement, these were decent people who I’m not defining out of the human race. These people who voted for Hitler were less educated, more unemployed, less informed, less experience with Jews and more susceptible to the systematic, vicious propaganda. Remember, Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Education and Propaganda said it so well that it’s used in college textbooks today, “ The bigger the lie, the more frequently repeated, the more likely uneducated people will believe it.”
So, I would say that, yes, economic frustration, misinformation, under-education, political frustration, humiliation will absolutely make you a recruitable person to a hate group or to a movement which was nationalistic and chauvinistic. Hitler said two or three important things to his people which were right on. He said we are in trouble in Germany because of the Treaty of Versailles, unemployment, horrendous unrest. We are in trouble! Do you agree with me? Vote for me and I’ll solve all your problems. The problems are the Jews, the Bolsheviks, the Communists, the Americans. Vote for me and I’ll solve your problems.
Roger: Sam, Germany was the most cultured, the highest form of civilization on the planet!The people that supported Hitler, that moved Hitler into a position of power, that gave him money and cut deals with him for their business operations, these were not ignorant people! These were not uneducated people! These were the crème de la crème of the world!
Dr. Oliner: There were very rich industrialists, very wealthy people who had businesses and corporations who saw…..
Roger: But, haven’t you just countered your own argument?
Dr. Oliner: No, I have not! What I’m trying to say is that people made mistakes, including…
Roger: Listen, collect yourself here. We’re going to take a short break. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be back to continue with our wonderful guest, Dr. Sam Oliner, about his fascinating book, “The Altruistic Personality” that’s just filled with stories of goodness. Goodness! You’ll feel really good after you read the book and you can get it any bookstore.
We’ll be right back.
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Dr. Sam Oliner is our guest. His book, “The Altruistic Personality” is just filled with a lot of interesting psychoanalysis and wonderful stories, tales of good people who put everything at risk to help the Jews during the holocaust. It goes into great depth about the whole psyche of these individuals, what they were really about deep down in their core. Fascinating reading! I hope you’ll get the book!
Sam, I want to get through this before we take the next call. You make this assessment, and I think it’s a dangerous, maybe even arrogant, assessment that people who are uneducated, I mean in the classic sense, are somehow easier to manipulate than people who are educated. I don’t think that I believe that! Can you make that argument, really?
Dr. Oliner: Let me put it another way. People who are less educated are more likely to be involved in stereotypes, more likely to buy distorted images of another group. They’re more likely to buy into the official line of propaganda.
Roger: Okay, back that up!
Dr. Oliner: I can back that up by……
Roger: Wait! Now, listen! That’s a profound statement! I think that we’re driven by our spirit and by common sense, by instinct and things that are innate within us!
Dr. Oliner: Let me back up for a second and say that I do not mean to imply that people who are less educated are therefore evil or that they are not capable of great compassion and helping. For example, in our sampling of 800, we found that uneducated people were just as compassionate as educated people.
What I’m trying to say and I hope I can make this statement clear is that less educated people are more likely to “buy the line”. They don’t have the educational background to look at the other side of the coin. Is it really true that Jews in Germany dominated the economy? Total absolute nonsense! There were only half a million Jews in Germany and 80 million Germans! Now, Jews did very well; but, they were not dominating the economy of Germany. An informed person would know the economy; the history, the details, the facts and figures and would probably not buy this unless it suited his purpose. Propaganda is to inflame people. A misinformed person might say, yes, these people are dominating my country, they’re evil, etc.
Roger: Now, I want to agree with you. Here’s what I want to say, harkening back to the beginning of the program when you talked about initially beginning your class on the Holocaust at Humboldt State because you were surprised at the number of people who didn’t believe that the holocaust even happened–they thought it was a hoax! I want to tell you something, Sam. I have met a lot of those people! A lot more than I care to remember!
I was deeply involved in certain studies that led me to the Lector Report and the really egregious things that exist out there; The Protocols of the Elders of Zion! Let me tell you what I found that I think is rather interesting. Most of the people who fall for it are low-class white trash, the bottom of the spit! I’m just telling you from being out there and doing research on my own. There are hundreds of them, Sam! Not a few, but hundreds of them!
Most of them are right down, rock bottom at the lowest echelon of the class structure.
Dr. Oliner: Economic structure as well.
Roger: So, Sam, I hate to tell you; but, I think you’re right! Stupid people are dangerous!
Dr. Oliner: They are more susceptible to buying the line. Especially if they’re not reachable by some method to inform. Inform the people and I think they’re more likely to make a just judgment, given both sides of the coin. Thank God for the United States and the free press! We can counteract bigotry, not that we have licked it all. We’re trying!
Roger: Sam, I like to play the devil’s advocate occasionally and I’ve been doing it with you this evening somewhat. It’s more fun for me! In all honesty, I’ve now been through 12 or 15 of these interviews, read so many books and done so much research on this subject, I still cannot comprehend the kind of evil that was so compensatory throughout the holocaust.
Yet, when I read you book, I cannot in all my wildest dreams imagine that there aren’t really a lot more good people than what has been discovered. If my neighbor really was in trouble, I would be there.
Dr. Oliner: I know you would.
Roger: I really would! I would die for principle and I know a lot of my good friends would do the same! At least, I think we would.
But, then faced with this ominous evil authority that came with the Hitler regime and the SS and the hit squads, maybe not! I don’t know now because I can’t comprehend it! I cannot, in my mind’s eye, see loading human beings onto cattle cars and dragging them off to their death! I cannot visualize it, even though I know it happened!
So, I go back to the opening paragraph of your book where a man is resting in his sleep, or not resting but having nightmares, and his friend not wanting to awaken him to the worse nightmare of his reality. That is so powerful!
Dr. Oliner: Yes, it’s by a famous guy, Frankl, who I’m sure you know is a psychologist. His famous book is “Men Search for Meaning.” To survive a horror like this is to try to live in you mind, try to suppress the evil around you, try to think of poetry and beauty and flowers, what might have been or what once was….
Roger: Before I take calls here in just a minute, I just want to ask you this. Did we learn anything from this horrible atrocity, this terrible, terrible, terrible war on mankind? Did we learn anything from it?
Dr. Oliner: I think that we have learned something although not enough! Let me talk about “not enough” because since then we’ve had Bangladesh, Biafra, the Tutsis and the Hutus. So, we’ve had other genocides. We haven’t learned enough because our leaders still remain as, I don’t know, moral dwarfs or something — people who did not stand up and intervene in evil. We have the capability of stopping the slaughter in Bosnia, the Europeans had the capability. So, we haven’t learned enough!
But, we’ve learned something! For one thing, the school systems in a number of states are now teaching about genocide, the massacre of indians, the holocaust and other genocides in 13 other places. There’s more sensitivity to the idea of …we’ve got to teach prosocial behavior and we’ve got to talk more about moral leaders, moral people.
Roger: Sam, I know you’re living in Eureka, the pot capital of America and all the people are like peaceful and high and everything. But, do you know what they call it when young Black men in inner-city America are running up and down the streets at night and during the daytime hours, shooting each other and killing each other? Do you know what they call it?
Dr. Oliner: Go ahead, tell me.
Roger: It’s the “good riddance factor”. I mean we don’t even deal with these situations in their microcosms in America today, let alone go to Rwanda or Burundi. We don’t even have the capability of dealing with this horrible evil that exists right here at home!
Dr. Oliner: We have the capability, Roger; but, we are indifferent to it. We are indifferent…
Roger: Then let me ask you before we go to the break and we’ll take calls immediately after the break— did we really learn anything?
Dr. Oliner: Yes! We learned that there was evil and some people stood up against evil. We must be vigilant and we must teach about it. Some people in this country call it the Holocaust Industry. No, it’s not! What it is, we are building libraries and memorials so that people can learn for the future what might happen if we are bystanders, indifferent to the past.
Roger: We’ve got to take a break. Dr. Sam Oliner is our guest. His book is “The Altruistic Personality”. If you want to get a good feel for goodness, get the book! We’ll be right back to take your calls. Please stay tuned.
Roger: Welcome back! Dr. Sam Oliner is with us. We’ll go right to the phones, okay? Jimmy in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Hello!
Caller-Jimmy: Hello to you and hello to that eminent gentleman we’re talking with. Can you hear me?
Dr. Oliner: Hello! Yes, I can.
Caller-Jimmy: I’ve enjoyed listening to your comments, especially when the Jews were being ignored by the United States and many others. How true those words are, Roger! Roosevelt ignored everything and could have done a lot more than he did! I have never liked the man because of his actions towards the Jews. I’m a Catholic; but, I was always taught to be nice to people.
53 years ago I saw the Bergen-Belsen, Hannau (sp?) and Dachau camps. I still find it appalling! I was fortunate enough to have been spared after I had seen the signs of “Arbeit macht frei”(Work Will Set You Free) that I didn’t go to one camp. But, the sights that I saw were stomach-turning! It was anything but pretty! George Patton said he wanted every soldier in his Third Army area —- the American soldier didn’t always know what they were fighting for —- He said, “I want you to come and take a damn good look at what you’re fighting against! This filth!!!” He hit it right! That’s just what there were! To see those human skeletons, I remember it well! I’m looking forward to your book, Sam!
Dr. Oliner: Thank you very much!
Roger: Thank you, Jimmy.
Caller-Jimmy: Goodnight. Roger: Dave, in Central Point, Oregon. Hello, Dave!
Caller-Dave: Good evening to you Roger and to your very distinguished guest there. God bless him for living through such a hell! Listen, Roger, I’ve got tell you, it’s not inherited evil, it’s inherited sin, you know? And, a lot of what Sam says is true. It’s ignorance! The way they tell the lie over and over and over again until people believe. Look at America! Look at our own propaganda machine! You can see it happening at work.
Roger: The media can demonize anyone they want, that’s true.
Caller-Dave: Well, look at the polls. The sheep believe it! There you have it. There’s your proof. But, it’s inherited sin. It’s Adamic sin! Then add to that our corrupt culture and there you go! I’m scared about the rest of the world, like China and Africa and all these other places where it continues. God help us all! I hope he comes back soon.
Roger: Dave, I really appreciate your call. God bless! Carol in Madison, Wisconsin, hello!
Caller-Carol: Yes, I have an article from the British Medical Journal here headlined, “Half of German Doctors Were Nazis” and it quotes a professor of Medical Ethics, Dr. Michael Grodin and a professor of History of Science, Dr. Robert Proctor.
Dr. Oliner: Yes, I know him.
Caller-Carol: They talk about a meshing of medical ideology and Nazi ideology, namely a homeopathic paranoia, a desire to cleanse the German volk of all impurities and health threats including contamination by undesirable elements in society. So, those doctors can hardly be called ignorant! They were the most active of any segment in the population, according to Dr. Proctor’s book.
Roger: Imagine being a scientist….
Caller-Carol: And their ideology is still alive and well today in the anti-smoking movement.
Roger: Carol, thank you. Hitler did give carte blanche to Mengele and his vast cadre of followers and….
Dr. Oliner: In the name of science, they committed the horrors and atrocities. The caller is right! And, by the way, not only ignorant people can do evil, educated people can do evil, to–especially when they have bought into the ideology that they’re doing it in the name of science.
Roger: I think that you can make a case that some people should know better and other you might not expect to be as readily knowledgeable. Don, in Roseburg, Oregon, hello!
Caller-Don: Hi Roger, howya doin? I just wondered if the Doctor knew, or if he can sense any of the same things happening in this society now with the liberals as has happened all across…..
Roger: You can’t ask Sam that question!. He’s a U.C. Berkeley grad! Ha, ha, ha!
Dr. Oliner: Ha, ha, ha!
Caller-Don: Ha, ha, ha! Can he sense that type of thing happening, the ignorance of a lot of people?
Roger: Do you see the tentacles of fascism in America today, Sam?
Dr. Oliner: No. I hope to God not! I’ve lived in a very fascistic society. With all our troubles, problems and corruption we have, we still have a belief in democracy. We still have a belief in freedom of religion and freedom of the press. When this goes, then we’ve got a problem and we’ve got fascism coming; but, I don’t think that is going to go because there a lot of people sensitive and bright enough not to permit this to happen. People must have freedom — must have freedom of worship — must have freedom of the press! So, I feel more safe here.
Roger: Well, the warning signs will obvious, I suppose. I’ve seen little pieces; but, I do think the people in this country would be hard-pressed to fall into the same trap, let’s hope!
Sam, I really appreciate having me you. You seem like a wonderful guy!
The book, “The Altruistic Personality,” by Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner is available at your bookstores. Sam, the pleasure was all mine!
Dr. Oliner: It was my pleasure! Thank you very much and I thank all your listeners. They’re wonderful! Appreciate it! And Good night!
Roger: God bless! Ladies and gentlemen, that’s that for this week’s Holocaust special. We were only going to go for an hour but it turned out to be so fascinating – at least, it was for me and I hope it was for you. We’ll be back tomorrow night. God bless America!
Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.
Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)