Personal and situational correlates of heroic rescue during the Holocaust / by Stephanie Fagin Jones.
This study investigated the extent to which wartime demographic, situational and personality variables distinguished a group of heroic rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust from a group of non-Jewish bystanders. Based on the literature on Holocaust rescue, it was hypothesized that personality variables would significantly distinguish the rescuers from the bystanders over and above demographic and situational variables. Participants were 79 verified rescuers and 73 verified bystanders. Subjects were obtained via nomination from rescued survivors, their families or from parish priests, all of whom had first-hand knowledge about the activities of the interviewees during WWII.Each subject was given a three-part interview investigating aspects of prewar, wartime and postwar activities, attitudes, and personal characteristics. Where pre-existing measures were not available, scales developed for this project were used and psychometrically validated wherever possible. The Empathic Concern subscale of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1980), the Social Responsibility Scale (Berkowitz & Lutterman, 1968) and the Altruistic Moral Judgment Scale (Midlarsky, Kahana, Corley, Nemeroff & Schonbar, 1999) were used to measure prosocial personality traits.In addition, risk-taking and perceived marginality were examined. Wartime demographic variables included age , gender, occupation, education, religious affiliation and socioeconomic status. Situational variables included wartime living arrangements , previous experience with Jews, history of persecution, and opportunity to help.A hierarchical discriminant functional analysis using the three sets of variables accounted for 74% of the variance and correctly classified 96.1% of the participants. The personality variables distinguished the rescuers from the bystanders over and above the demographic and situational variables, with social responsibility and altruistic moral reasoning emerging as the most significant predictors followed by empathic concern and risk-taking. When examined in the context of the personality variables, none of the situational or wartime demographic variables were significant.Results of this study suggest that the possession of high levels of positive personality characteristics may surpass the ability of sociological factors and situational circumstances to characterize a group of otherwise ordinary individuals who engaged in extraordinary acts of kindness during an extreme humanitarian crisis. Implications regarding the development of prosocial dispositions and suggestions for future research are discussed.
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