Excerpt from "The Rescuer Self":
"Rescue of Jews under the Nazis was, in psychological parlance, a "rare behavior." Among a population of 700 million in Germany and the occupied countries, the thousands who risked their lives to save Jews and others from Nazi persecution constituted an aberration from the norm. The majority remained passive bystanders; many actively collaborated in the Final Solution.
The diversity among the rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust is enough to dissuade any social scientist from generalizations about motivation. However, systematic analysis of their family backgrounds, personalities and situations begins to suggest a way of understanding what enabled from people to take extraordinary risks to save the lives of others.
Through the rescuing relationship, the values and innermost core of the rescuer were expressed. That core was nurtured in childhood, came to full expression during the Holocaust, and then continued in the postwar years as an integral part of the rescuer’s identity, as, in essence, a rescuer self.
Most rescuers acknowledge that the initial act of such behavior was not premeditated and planned. Whether gradual or sudden, there was little mulling over of the moral dilemmas, conflicts, and life and death consequences involved in the decision to help. The decision to harbor Jews in extremis was often an impulsive response to an immediate situation—the reflection of an integrated self.
The ability to see beyond Nazi propaganda, to strip away the gauze of Nazi euphemisms, and to recognize that innocents were being murdered lies at the heart of what distinguishes most rescuers from the bystanders. It was the necessary first step that made the ensuing rescue activity possible and, in some cases, inevitable. What is disputed among researchers is how one develops this ability to see things differently. Some suggest that awareness of the imminent death of the Jews was a cognitive process that was not influenced by learned values or early socialization. Most, however, emphasize the influence of early experiences, values, and the immediate situation, all of which may have impeded or enhanced the possibility to help."