What makes some people aid the persecuted while others just stand by?
Questions about rescue and resistance have been fundamental to the field of genocide studies since its inception. Mark Roseman offers a sophisticated and deeply human exploration of this question in his new book Lives Reclaimed: A Story of Rescue and Resistance in Nazi Germany (Metropolitan Books, 2019). The book is a careful examination of a small organization called “League: Community for Socialist Life.” Generally referred to by its German shorthand, the Bund was founded in the 1920s to inspire Germans to create a new, more ethical and more communal world. But the emergence of Nazi rule forced the Bund to consider how it could achieve its goals and even survive in a much different political climate than it faced originally. As they did so, its members strove to discern what living their ideals meant in a Nazi world and how to do so safely.
Members of the Bund responded in a complicated, contingent ways. Prominent among them were a variety of attempts to help those suffering around them. These ranged from moments of kindness (offering flowers to Jews whose houses had been wrecked) to efforts to hide Jews from police and deportation for months or years at a time. It’s an extraordinary story that reads like a novel. From it, Roseman draws from it lessons about human behavior and decisions that are rooted in the particular context of the holocaust but ring true in a wide variety of moments and conflicts.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.
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