Monday, August 24, 2009

The Opposite of Cruelty

Philip Hallie on the people of the tiny French village of Le Chambon in Haute-Loire, which consisted mostly of fundamentalists and conservative Huguenots who risked their lives saving around 6000 Jews (more than the population of the village) during the Holocaust, and who, although poor, shared everything they had with Jews in need:

But for me as a student of cruelty they were something more: they were an embodiment of the opposite of cruelty. And so, somehow, at last, I had found goodness in opposition to cruelty. In studying their story, and in telling it in Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, I learned that the opposite of cruelty is not simply freedom from the cruel relationship; it is hospitality. It lies not only in something negative, an absence of cruelty or of imbalance; it lies in unsentimental, efficacious love. The opposite of the cruelties of the camps was not the liberation of the camps, the cleaning out of the barracks and the cessation of the horrors. All of this was the end of the cruelty relationship, not the opposite of that relationship. And it was not even the end of it, because the victims would never forget and would remain in agony as long as they remembered their humiliation and suffering. No, the opposite of cruelty was the not the liberation of the camps, not freedom; it was the hospitality of the people of Chambon, and of very few others during the Holocaust.

[Philip Hallie, "From Cruelty to Goodness," in Christina Sommers & Fred Sommers, Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, Harcourt College Publishers (2001) pp. 14-15.]

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