Human Morality and the Nazi Terror:
The Problem of the “Useless Mouths”
Though full equality is a mirage or a hope for the future, the problem of human equality in the face of famine had long ceased to confront Western society until it was raised again in all its nakedness by the Nazi terror in Europe. What is to be done when there is not enough to eat for everybody—when there is not even half, not even a quarter enough for a given collectivity? Should all be allowed to die slowly of starvation, or should an elite group be established to which the others would be sacrificed?
In May of 1942, the historian E. Ringelblum, then relief director in the Warsaw ghetto, wrote in his journal: “The community kitchens do not solve the question. They prolong existence, but the end is inevitable. They prolong suffering and provide no solution, for the necessary means are lacking. Reduced to soup and dry bread, those served by the kitchens die a lingering death. The question arises whether it would not have been better in the first place to help the most socially useful people, intellectuals, and so forth; but the situation is such that we do not have enough even for a selected group; and moreover, on what grounds can we sacrifice men who were productive workers or artisans before the war and whom only the war and the ghetto have transformed into the dregs of the population, into candidates for the mass burial ground? The tragic question remains: should we administer by spoonfuls an aid insufficient to maintain life, or should we give ample aid to a very small number of the elect? . . .”
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