The Oct. 10-16th magazine, which I just read today, detailed the life of Marek Edelman, the last military commander of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. I'm pretty sure you can find the article online somewhere, but to summarize, this man kept faith in horrible conditions, with thousands dying from hunger, disease, and more being deported to death camps. He escaped from the ghetto uprising by crawling through tunnels full of dirty water (reminds me of "Shawshank Redemption") only to take part in another Warsaw rebellion. It lasted 63 days before Nazi forces broke through and soon razed the city.
There's more... but what really caught my eye was that he had written a book describing the "ecstatic moments of happiness, when terrified and lonely people were thrown together" in the Warsaw ghetto. (quoting the article, not necessarily his book, 91).
This seems to fly in the face of other books imagining humanity's response to horrific conditions (e.g. "The Plague," Camus, or "Lord of the Flies," Golding). In those books, the majority of people succumbed to apathy and/or animal instincts.
Just makes me wonder how much of Edelman's book is written on very selective memories, or if the ghetto did somehow bring out the great things in people.
My favorite quote of the article seemed to be also taken, although not directly, from Edelman's book:
"Man was naturally a beast, but love could overwhelm him, and love could also be taught."
Perhaps that's the only way to teach love-- to overwhelm someone with it.
A bit more:
Edelman refused to talk about the ghetto uprising for decades, did not embrace heroism, and also did not express hatred for Nazis. He was a Polish Jew who experienced anti-Semitism all his life.
He was a cardiologist and a chain smoker. Somehow that seems to fit his life experience.
"Someone who had known so much death bore all the more responsibility for life."