April 18, 2009 in Features

To Save or Not to Save?

Erin Stoyell-Mulholland Special to The Spokesman-Review
 
About this essay
This essay was a runner-up in the writing contest for the Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust.

When faced with the question of whether or not I would have harbored Jews during the Holocaust, the automated reflex answer is yes. Yes, I would stand up and be one of those few brave ones, one who put her own life on the line to fight this cruel injustice. And, of course, that is what I would love to think. I pray this would be my response. But the truth is, I am only human and it would be a difficult decision. It is easy to speak the words and say I would help the Jews in any way I could. But would I really?

Humans tend to act in ways of self preservation because a sense of self preservation is a key human instinct. The Nazis clearly demonstrated that anyone who helped the Jews would be punished severely. Harboring the Jews in my own household and protecting them would compete against my human need for survival. Although I know that self preservation is a key component in human nature, I also believe humans have an inherent goodness in them. But the question is, would this inherent goodness outweigh my need for self preservation? Knowing this, would I still try to help people I did not know well, or at all? Or would I turn a blind eye to the troubles of the Jews? To answer these tough questions, I decided to bring the questions around to a level more familiar to me.

While in no way comparable to the horrors of the persecution of the Jews, I look towards my behavior when witnessing injustice to the outcasts of our school. This, of course, is a much different level, as no one is in mortal danger, but it is still an unfair persecution of a particular group of people. These students are social pariahs because they are a little bit different from typical students. A student who risks befriending a social outcast, quickly becomes an outcast himself. I, however, have not made any deliberate efforts to befriend someone on the social fringe.

I have never taken part in teasing or ridiculing anyone because of their differences, but does this absolve me of any responsibility? Does this scenario infer how I would act at the time of the Holocaust? Would I ignore the plight of the Jews as I ignore the plight of my fellow students? The Jewish people, too, were seen as different.

Pondering this underscores the valor of the rescuers of the Jews. Putting aside their own fears and hesitations, and courageously taking in Jews, must have taken a strong moral compass. These people are recognized as heroes in history. Yet, many of the rescuers did not think of themselves as brave. They just saw what needed to be done, and did it. How many of us could say for certain we would do the same? I, for one, am uncertain of my answer. But perhaps through the atrocious lesson of the Holocaust, I can see the examples of these brave heroes and follow their example in my daily life. By learning it is not just in the momentous decisions, such as harboring Jewish people in a time of persecution, but it is by doing lesser deeds in my life today, I might become a hero. If I learn to have courage in the small things, then maybe, with the help of God, I too can rise up like the Holocaust rescuers to help those in dire need.

Erin Stoyell-Mulholland is a sophomore at Gonzaga Preparatory School.


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