There Are Two Types of People

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While I was studying the Holocaust, I remember my astonishment, when I realized that survivors often distinguished only two types of people – the decent and the indecent. According to those testimonies, the radicalness of the situation (presence of fear, suffering and death) allowed one to see this basic fact (?) of humanity fairly clearly.

The following description can be found in Victor E. Frankl book – Man’s Search for Meaning:

“From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only those two – the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of ‘pure race’ – and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.”

Frankl explained his viewpoint further:

“Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil?”

Similar conclusions can be drawn from reading an even more gruesome account of the extermination process in Treblinka written by Yankel Wiernik. But there are many more…

Do extreme situations bring out the real nature of things? Do we cover up our most basic traits with “higher order” qualities which can be torn off when it is dark enough?