No-Mind: A Zen Buddhist Pathway to Heroism

William_James_b1842cBy Richard Mercer

Let’s begin with a lecture given by William James toward the end of December, 1907, in New York City.  Printed later under the title The Energies of Men, James identifies a serious, wide-spread malaise:

Most of us feel as if we lived habitually with a cloud weighing on us, below our highest notch of clearness in discernment, sureness in reasoning, or firmness in deciding.  Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half-awake.  Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.  We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources. 

Our natural vitality is constricted, something is missing.  Many realize how much freer their lives might be, but find they are bound in, confined by only partially understood inhibitions, routines, and habits.  Where are the keys that unlock and release our stifled energies?

James first mentions crises.  Consider this description of Lieutenant Henry Ropes of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 written by Captain H. L. Abbott:

(His) conduct in this action . . . was perfectly brave, but not with the bravery of excitement that nerves common men.  He was absolutely cool and collected;  . . . (his normal) slight impetuosity and excitability . . . sobered down into the utmost self-possession, giving him an eye that noticed every circumstance . . . ; a judgement that suggested in every case the proper measures, and a decision that made the application instantaneous.  It is impossible for me to conceive of a man more perfectly master of himself, more completely noting and remembering every circumstance when the ordinary man sees nothing but a tumult and remembers nothing but a whirl.

canvasLieutenant Ropes’ actions embody conduct out of the ordinary; a new way replaces the old way of doing things with a decisiveness appropriate to the moment.  His bravery is intriguing and inspiring.

James also mentions ideas — “ideas set free beliefs, and the beliefs set free our wills.”  This young soldier’s experience can be seen as illustrating a state of being summed up in the Chinese neo-Daoist concept no-mind (wuxin).  The person who experiences this is not mindless, but rather loses awkward self-consciousness and acts with appropriate and apparently effortless decisiveness.  When such an idea, like any energy releasing abstract idea, is at work in an individual’s life, its effect is often very great.  It acts as a kind of exhortation, something to inquire after, something to learn about.  It is edifying.

In the context of Buddhist thought, connected to no-mind is another animating idea–the majestic concept of Enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksambodhi).  Enlightenment in the Mahayana Buddhist view can be gradual or sudden.  It can be the result of a lifetime of good behavior marked by restraint, study, and meditation or it can be instantaneous.

Sudden enlightenment is at the heart of the Lankavatara Sutra, compiled in Sanskrit in India somewhere between 300 and 450 CE.  Brimming with invigorating ideas, it presents a remarkably modern looking psychological system suggesting enlightenment to be a healthy, human mind freed from countless abstractions and cumbersome habits.

Early in the sutra the Buddha warns Mahmati about the dangerous and delusive power of habitual reactions which are the source of greed, anger, and suffering.

So long as people do not understand the true nature of the
objective world . . . .  they imagine the multiplicity of external
objects to be real and become attached to them . . . .

CQMNbo2WEAAmHhMAnd a little later:

False imagination teaches that such things as light and dark,
long and short, black and white are different and are to be
discriminated; but they are not independent of each other;
they are only different aspects of the same thing, they are terms
of relation not of reality . . . .  Mahamati, you and all Bodhisattvas
should discipline yourselves in the realization and patient
acceptance of the truths of emptiness . . . .

Freeing oneself from stale habits of thinking and the illusions of language games, a sudden and intuitive turning about takes place in the deepest seat of consciousness.  At this moment, born from a state of mental concentration, one’s old, mortal mind is given up.

When the intellectual-mind reaches its limit . . . its processes of thought . . . must be transcended by an appeal to some higher faculty of cognition . . . .  There is such a faculty in the intuitive mind, which is the link between the intellectual mind and Universal mind.

With egotism greatly diminished and gradually disappearing, the Bodhisattva becomes master of himself and of a life of spontaneous and radiant effortlessness.

The Diamond Sutra, compiled in India in Sanskrit perhaps around 300 CE, provides a dramatic illustration of a sudden enlightenment experience.  In it the Buddha teaches Subhuti, a well-known disciple and Arhat, lessons in the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita) and emptiness (sunyata).  Throughout the short sutra a wide variety of important, traditional elements in early Buddhist and Mahayana thought are subjected to a pattern of deconstruction.  They are declared to be empty–not eternal verities, but relative.

Take for example the Jataka tales which were extremely popular and influential.  These are tales of the Buddha’s many, many previous lives before he became the Buddha Shakyamuni.  In a number of these he is in the form of an animal that sacrifices itself to provide food for someone who is starving.  In others he is in human form performing prodigious acts of sacrifice that include giving away possessioprajna6 ns and even family members.  Suicide to save others figures in a number of the stories.  These tales provided an hyperbolic ideal of selfless behavior for early Buddhists and Shakyamuni undoes them along with other Buddhist mainstays.

The Buddha said:  If some woman or man were to sacrifice
as many of their own bodies as there are grains of sand in
Ganges River, Subhuti, and if someone were to learn just
four lines from this sutra and teach it to others the merit of
teacher would exceed that of the others by an immeasurable amount.

At this moment, in a flash, Subhuti comprehends the new ideal.

Venerable Subhuti, listening to this was shocked into a deep
understanding of the meaning of this teaching; bursting into tears
and wiping them away as he continued to weep, he said how
well the Buddha has taught these lessons.  A new level of
cognition has been produced in me.

It is not unusual for sutras to conclude with a general enlightenment experience accompanied by universal rejoicing, but this is different–it is one disciple moved to tears.  And we’re not finished.  The explosive power of prajnaparamita’s doctrine of emptiness is frightening.  BOOM!  Everything crumbles into the rubble of paradox and relativity.

The Buddha said to Subhuti:  .  .  .  If there is a person who,
listening to this sutra, is not frightened, alarmed, or disturbed,
you should know him as a wonderful person.  Why?  Because
what the Buddha has taught as parjnaparamita, the highest
perfection, is not the highest perfection and therefore it is called
the highest perfection.

Immediately out of the ruins, however, arise two virtues that have escaped the general collapse, patience and charity.  True to form Shakyamuni says the perfection of patience is really no perfection and that’s why it’s called the perfection of patience.  The same holds for charity.  This realized, the result is wonderful.

The Buddha said to Subhuti:  When a bodhisattva practices
(patience and) generosity without depending on form, he is like
someone with good eyesight walking in the bright sunshine
–he can see all shapes and colors.

The experience is expansive.  The whole world opens up becoming fresh and new.
The idea that sparks conversion in the Lanka and the Diamond Sutra is emptiness (sunyata)–a radical relativity.  There is no Truth and that’s the Truth.  This is the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita).  Both sutras declare that awareness of MB-20111206-DSC_0111-530x800relativity is liberating and energizing, but at the same time a power drawing people together.  We simply see the world as it really is.  William James echoes this:

Truth happens to an idea.  It becomes true, is made by events.
Its verity is in fact an event, a process.  We say our ideas “agree”
with reality when they lead us through acts and ideas . . . to other
parts of experience . . . .  The connexions and transitions come to us from point to point as being progressive, harmonious, satisfactory.

James expresses an idea Mahamati and Subhuti might well understand but never put the way he puts it.

True ideas lead to consistency, stability, and flowing human
intercourse.  They lead us away from eccentricity and isolation,
from forced and barren thinking.

Our energies are unbound.   We arrive at the paradoxical condition of no-mind (wuxin) in which our thinking is free from attachment working smoothly at liberty to come and go en rapport with every circumstance and to render help to every person in the most appropriate way.

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This essay is Richard Mercer’s third analysis of heroism from the Buddhist perspective. His first essay focused on the Bodhisattva. Mercer has been a Visiting Instructor of English and Core (especially Edgar Allan Poe and Samuel Beckett) at the University of Richmond. He has studied Buddhism since the early 1990s. Only recently has he realized that the Bodhisattva ideal is a wonderful and practicable model to follow.

Harry Potter: The Perfect Fictional Hero

20160210_nerdistnews_harrypottercursedchild_1x1By Annie Ryan

It may seem obvious that Harry Potter is a hero. After all, he does save the world from the evil that is Lord Voldemort. But what kind of hero is he? According to Goethals and Allison’s (2012) taxonomy of heroism, Harry fits best in the traditional hero category, in which the hero completes the the class hero’s journey as described by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Throughout the series’ cumulative 4100 pages, Harry follows the major stages of the hero’s journey: departure, initiation, and return. When we first meet Harry, he is an obedient, insecure, and lonely boy who lives in a closet. He has no friends and no one who cares about him, and he accepts that this is his life. Fortuitously, Harry is plucked out of this mundane life, never to return again. In this new world, he is famous, adored, and is expected to do great things.

In his initiation stage, a second taxonomic system can be included in defining Harry Potter as a hero. Harry belongs in the category of underdog, an important hero-type in Franco, Blau, & Zimbardo’s (2011) taxonomy of heroism. He is in a world where everyone exceeds him in knowledge and experience. At Hogwarts, almost all the students grew up with wizards, and have had exposure to magic. Harry is an underdog on the traditional hero’s journey.

This underdog theme persists throughout the various books: he is the only first-year Quidditch player, is more sensitive to the dementors that are brought into Hogwarts than the other students, and is the only under-age 635890934224265787884431994_new-harry-potter-story-halloweenstudent in the Triwizard Tournament. Most importantly, his archenemy, Lord Voldemort, is a brilliant wizard with powerful wizards as his allies. Harry is an amateur wizard, and his allies are amateur wizards for the majority of obstacles he faces.

Inspiring underdogs often emerge as leaders. Harry has had various labels assigned to him, including “The Boy Who Lived”, “The Chosen One”, “Undesirable Number One”, and “a lying show-off”. There’s no denying that Harry embraces his role in the war against Voldemort, and he begins to become a leader. He heads the rebel organization Dumbledore’s Army, is Quidditch Captain, and is ultimately commander-in-chief of the Battle of Hogwarts, which results in the defeat of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. His influence is so strong that people continued to fight and die for him even after they thought he was dead.

His death suggests that Harry fits into a second category in Franco et al.’s taxonomic structure of heroes, the martyr. In one of the final chapters of the books, Harry sacrifices his own life in order to defeat Lord Voldemort and save the world. But even before his ultimate sacrifice, Harry risks his life to help others. Harry completes dangerous tasks to stop Lord Voldermort from reaching the Sorcerer’s Stone, enters the Chamber of Secrets to save Ginny Weasley’s life, and almost drowns saving Gabrielle Delacour. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry breaks into the Ministry of Magic, Gringotts, and Hogwarts under the risk of capture and subsequent death in order to destroy the Horcruxes and thus Lord Voldemort.

One could say that Harry’s return stage begins after he dies. After Lord Voldemort “kills” him, he talks to his mentor, Albus Dumbledore, and finally learns all the information to defeat Lord Voldemort. As with all great heroes, Harry returns to Earth, his transformation complete. He can finally complete his journey, and although he never physically returns to the Muggle world where he started, he is rejoined with everything he loves. After coming back from the dead, Harry is the true heroic leader everyone expected him to be.


Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (2017). Setting the scene: The rise and coalescence of heroism science. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Goethals, G. R., & Allison, S. T. (2012). Making heroes: The construction of courage, competence, and virtue. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 183-235.

Franco, Z. E., Blau, K., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2011). Heroism: A conceptual analysis and differentiation between heroic action and altruism. Review of General Psychology, 15(2), 99-113.

Brandon Stanton: The Hero of ‘Humans of New York’

UntitledBy Yasmine Karam

I had always been hesitant to have a personal hero, for placing any person on that pedestal seemed to imply lofty, even unattainable expectations to be met. However, after having read compiled literature on heroes, I realized I had been operating with a skewed definition of heroism, one that included the expectation (either overt or covert) of perfection from a hero. I suppose if that were true, we wouldn’t need to distinguish heroes from God.

In identifying one of my heroes, I considered the argument that “all of humanity – not just a select group of moral elite – is capable of heroism” (Allison, Goethals, & Kramer, 2017). True heroism calls for both morality and influence, but morality can be subjective. We, as individuals, prioritize different values over others based on our own experiences. As such, we have different ideas about who meets “heroic” standards. I personally have a passion for social justice, as well as an interest and appreciation for people of all walks of life. With those values and interests in mind, Brandon Stanton, the creator of the “Humans of New York” blog, is one of my heroes.

Brandon Stanton started the “Humans of New York” blog in the summer of 2010 with the intention of compiling an “exhaustive catalogue” of people in New York City by taking photos of 10,000 New Yorkers. His project quickly evolved, and he began recording tidbits from the New Yorkers he photographed. These quotes and short stories give a glimpse into the lives of the people he photographs, and provides the blog’s followers with inspiration, compassion, and often a good laugh.

Today, the blog maintains 17.18 million followers from all around the world. His work is fascinating in part because it challenges viewers to acknowledge that no matter how we perceive people at first sight, we can never know their unique experiences and how we may be able to relate to them. His daily posts on my newsfeed serve as a constant reminder for me to resist the urge to hastily judge others. It is also important to note that the blog does not engage in partisan rhetoric, a practice that I feel often further polarizes us.

In 2016, the Internet and social media are some of the most powerful vehicles for social movements and influence. The vignettes of human experience Stanton carefully crafts reflect that he is “not only…powerful and charismatic,” Untitled2but “held in fascination by a strong faith,” which in turn “awaken[s]” a similar faith in his 17.18 million followers (Allison, et al 2017). As such, Stanton seems to have recognized the power and responsibility of his role in promoting social change. While I have followed and enjoyed his blog for a few years now, it is Stanton’s most recent posts that make him a hero for me.

With the recent tensions in the Middle East bringing an influx of Syrian refugees to the US, many Americans are giving in to fear of the unknown and resisting our nation’s efforts to provide aid to the refugees. Brandon Stanton traveled to the Middle East and began photographing and interviewing displaced Syrians, Muslims, and other Middle Easterners, illuminating the humanity of their experiences. In other words, Stanton showed us all that these refugees are not a mob to be feared or shunned, but individual human beings in need of our acceptance and help. After awakening compassion and concern in his followership, Stanton took the next step and organized enormously successful fundraising efforts for many of the families he met overseas.

Finally, Stanton’s most recent post broke his general protocol of posting photographs and snippets – It was an open letter to Donald Trump opposing his racist, violent, and ignorant rhetoric. In the most traditional sense of the term, Brandon Stanton is a hero to all of us Americans terrified of the implications of a Trump presidency that has become less and less impossible. He understands that his blog can be used as a powerful weapon in the battle against Trump and the ignorance that fuels his supporters’ loyalty, defining his public opposition not as a “political decision, [but] a moral one.”

Brandon Stanton’s understanding of and appreciation for people continues to give us a daily dose of laughs, empathy, and exposure to new ideas. It is his willingness and dedication to using his influence to inspire social change, however, that makes him a hero.


Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2017). The hero’s transformation. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (2017). Setting the scene: The rise and coalescence of heroism science. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (Eds.) (2017). Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Atticus Finch and the Life Lessons of Moral Courage

UntitledBy Sophia Grillo

One of the most admirable actions that a human being can perform is an act of moral courage. Moral courage is aimed at stopping the unfair treatment or degradation of individuals by reinforcing moral standards and values. The key to a morally courageous act is having the ability and willingness to overcome barriers and to withstand pushback from others.

One fictional character who demonstrates a great act of moral courage is Atticus Finch. Not only did he defy the majority and put his family in danger, he stood by his beliefs in honor of racial equality.

To Kill A Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, takes place in a racist white community of Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus Finch, the father of Jem and Scout Finch, is a prominent lawyer and financially prosperous compared to the rest of his community. Putting the community’s racist beliefs aside, Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell.

When the trial begins, Tom Robinson is placed in the local jail and an angry mob of white men tries to lynch him.  Atticus confronts the mob the night before the trial. Jem and Scout, who have sneaked out of the house, soon join him. Jem and Scout are exposed to the horrors of the racist community that they live in and face verbal abuse from other Maycomb citizens.

At the trial itself, the children sit in the “colored balcony” with the town’s black citizens. Atticus provides clear evidence that the accusers, Mayella Ewell and her father, Bob, are lying. Despite overwhelming evidence pointing toUntitled Tom’s innocence, the all-white jury convicts him. Tom later tries to escape from prison and is shot to death.

Atticus’ decision to defend Tom Robinson is an act of moral courage for multiple reasons. Atticus was one of the few people of Maycomb who believed in racial equality. It took great courage to challenge the racist climate of that time. It would have been much easier for him to align with the majority than to fight for the rights of one black man.

Another reason Atticus’ actions can be seen as morally courageous is because his decision to defend Tom put his family in danger. The exposure of the Finch family during the trial caused Scout and Jem to face constant harassment from other children and adults in Maycomb. Although Atticus knew that his family would face this horrific kind of treatment, he decided that the life lessons of this experience far outweighed any negatives.

Atticus showed his children firsthand a hard lesson about right and wrong, and that sometimes the unpopular road is the right road. Witnessing their father’s actions, Jem and Scout are able to learn for themselves to stand up for truth and justice no matter what the consequences. Atticus spreads moral courage without even realizing it.

Atticus also stuck to his beliefs. One of the most important characteristics of morally courageous people is that they remain committed to their ideas despite all consequences. In this case, Atticus knew what he was getting into when he decided to defend a black man. Instead of letting the ignorance of others discourage him, he continued to put on a fair trail and taught his children valuable lessons along the way.

Psychologist Anna Halmburger has recently proposed an Integrative Model of Moral Courage and Relevant Determinants. She outlines five steps leading to morally courageous behavior. First, one must notice the situation; second, they have to interpret the situation as a “norm violation”; third, they must accept responsibility to act; fourth, they must possess intervention skills; finally, they must decide to take the intervening action.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Courtroom drama film in which Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge. Stars: Gregory Peck. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Courtroom drama film in which Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge. Stars: Gregory Peck. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

Atticus Finch goes through each of these decision stages leading up to the trial. He acknowledges the accusation of Tom Robinson and the fact that racism is a huge problem in Maycomb. He then accepts responsibility as a lawyer that everyone deserves a fair chance no matter what his or her skin color. He ignores personal constraints like what consequences he and his family would face. And finally, he intervenes with strong evidence that Tom Robinson is innocent.

The difference between moral courage and heroism is that moral courage is much more personal than heroism. For example, Atticus personally believes that racial inequality is wrong. Halmburger writes, “moral courage is aimed to protect moral values and standards.” In other words, the main purpose of morally courageous acts is to spread and enforce positive and personal morals. Atticus not only spread his morals but he also protected the rights of another citizen even if the town did not agree.

At the end of her article, Halmburger writes, “The more everyone contributes to the protection of moral values in their daily lives, the fewer heroes will be needed to show morally courageous behavior.” The world needs more people like Atticus Finch. The more people who try to spread and protect positive morals, the fewer societal problems there will be. The whole purpose of Atticus defending Tom Robinson was his hope that his moral stand would become contagious and lead to the defeat of racial inequality.

Personally, I believe that moral courage is more admirable than heroism because anyone can be a hero. It takes real strength to stick to your beliefs in the face of tremendous adversity and discomfort while ignoring all possible consequences. Atticus states “if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again. […] Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine, I guess.” (9.16-21) This quote shows that this trial was more than just defending an innocent victim. It was about doing the most good and letting nothing stand in the way of personal values and beliefs.

Overall, Atticus Finch was definitely not viewed as a hero to anyone in Maycomb. However, his bold actions of moral courage showed that it didn’t matter if people viewed him as a hero. What mattered was the lesson and example he set for his own children and his bravery in going against an entire town for the sake of one man’s rights. His action reflects the qualities of a truly moral lawyer and remarkable human being. It makes Atticus Finch as admirable, if not more so, than any hero.


Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (Eds.) (2017). Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Halmburger, A., Baumert, A., & Schmitt, M. (2017). Everyday heroes: Determinants of moral courage. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.


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Heroic Humility: What the Science of Humility Can Say to People Raised on Self-Focus

heroichumiltycoverTo become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.

        —Charles de Montesquieu


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

        —Philippians 2:3–4


Heroic Humility is a book focusing on a type of excellence or virtue that we think is crucial for the 21st century. It is critical because in Western culture, we have been immersed in individualism and orientation toward the self.

Congress seems locked in mortal combat. Relationships seem all about two individuals wanting their way and divorces and break-ups of cohabitation relationships, when added together, are epidemic—far exceeding the divorce rate that rose steadily until unmarried cohabitation replaced many marriages. We have religious intolerance, disgruntlement with police and renewed (and sometimes new) racial and ethnic tensions, and civil unrest over gay marriage. Youth want life to matter—to help the needy—but they want to help only when and how is convenient.

This book is about humility, a commonly recognized virtue. We believe that understanding and building more humility will move individuals and society toward some relief from the tensions that beset our culture. Humility demands that we see ourselves accurately, present ourselves modestly, and orient ourselves toward helping others. news_everettHumility serves as a corrective to self-focus and in-group orientation.

But humility is not easy in an individualistic culture. It requires courage and moments of extraordinary heroism superimposed over a life of heroism. And to help others, it requires leadership. We thus combine humility, heroism, and leadership in this scholarly book.

Humble heroic leaders are the noble champions of society that most people are inspired by and aspire to be. They are not weak but strong, and can employ their assorted virtues to successfully achieve the goals of the group and the people within the group. They are virtuous and have worked hard to build up their own positive qualities, glimpsing the goal   Scott19to which they personally aspire, practicing virtue until it has become a habit of the heart, meeting tests, trials, temptations, and suffering while maintaining integrity, and experiencing a deep satisfaction (even if they are not temporally happy) from doing the right things.

Heroic Humility is authored by Everett L. Worthington, Jr., and Scott T. Allison. It will be published by the American Psychological Association, and it is scheduled to appear in April of 2017.

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Oskar Schindler: The Nazi-Turned-Hero

Schindler,_OskarBy Elise Tate

“Hero” and “Nazi” are not common words used to describe the same person. Normally, they are in opposition to one another; the hero fights the Nazis, or the Nazis fight the hero. However, for one man, he was both hero and Nazi. His name was Oskar Schindler.

When Schindler was a young man he attended numerous trade schools and eventually married his wife Emilie when he was 20, shortly before Hitler began his rise to power. Schindler was Catholic and an ethnic German, and he was a successful businessman. In 1939, after the German annexation of the Sudetenland, he joined the Nazi party.

Schindler took advantage of the German occupation program to remove Jewish business owners and bought Rekord Ltd., which had been a Jewish-owned enamelware manufacturer. Because he was a successful businessman, a wartime veteran, and a member of the Nazi party, Schindler seemed an unlikely candidate to emerge as a hero to over a thousand Jews.

At first, he was playing the war and the holocaust to his advantage. It wasn’t long before this practice started weighing on his conscience, and he quickly began using his advantageous position to help Jews. He employed over 1000 Jewish forced laborers who lived in the nearby Krakow ghetto, and he intervened numerous times on their behalf with higher authorities. He not only assistedOskar Schindler Jews on an individual basis, he took steps to prevent workers from being sent to harsher camps. His involvement as a wartime rescuer then began its steep ascent.

In 1943 the Krakow ghetto was liquidated and the workers were all relocated to the nearby labor camp Plaszow, which was then converted to a concentration camp. Schindler allowed his workers to stay overnight at his factory, along with another 450 workers from other factories. This brought him under suspicion and he was arrested on several different occasions. But the Germans were unable to charge him successfully.

Unfortunately, the SS moved his Jews to Plaszow anyway in 1944. Afterward he went on to establish his own “labor camp” that he used to produce armaments. He declared it essential to the war effort, allowing him to save 800 Jewish men and 400 Jewish women from Auschwitz. Over a long period of time his “factory” was able to produce only one shipment of live ammunition. His camp was finally liberated on May 9th, 1945, when the Soviets arrived. By this time Schindler was essentially penniless, having spent all of his fortune on bribes and other things to keep his Jews safe.

Even though Schindler did not begin his journey as a hero, by the time the war was over he fulfilled every one of the Great Eight characteristics of heroes: he was smart, strong, resilient, selfless, caring, charismatic, reliable, and inspiring. He used his cunning to bend the system to help him and his Jews; he was strong in the face of numerous arrests; and he place the well-being of Jews above his own well-being.

Although he was not well known at the time of his death, Oskar Schindler has become a source of inspiration to millions around the world. He has also been a recipient of many medals of honor. Schindler is the only Nazi with an honorary burial in a cemetery in Jerusalem. A true hero, he is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 human beings.

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