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Professor Shostak's Lecture Summary

On the 25th of February, Professor Arthur Shostak, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, gave a very thought-provoking speech about 'Appreciating the Help Story in the Holocaust'. 

The talk drew on acts of stealth altruism as recounted in almost all of 195 survivor memoirs studied by Professor Shostak, many interviews with survivors, and study visits to 43 Holocaust Museums. These acts included smuggling soup to others, the substitution for others too ill to survive another day of slave labour, the smuggling of mail and propping up of ill prisoners at roll call.

What is a Help Story? 'Help Story' refers to the very varied efforts made by some European Jewish victims during the Holocaust. 'Stealth Altruism' refers to unpaid, secret, high-risk caring efforts Jewish victims made, with no hope of reward, knowing that this behaviour was prohibited by the Gestapo and SS, and would be harshly punished if detected. To one survivor, this was proof that “even in the perverse environment of Auschwitz absolute goodness was a possibility”.

Shostak made the case that recognition of this high-risk care (the Help Story) is inseparable from the perpetrator atrocities and needs to be included in the memorialisation of the Holocaust.

As the late Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis maintained, our effort to memorialize the Shoah is best understood as “a sacred act that elicits a double mandate — to expose the depth of evil and to raise goodness from the dust of amnesia.”


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