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Keywords:

  • genocide;
  • identity;
  • worldview;
  • categorization

What turns neighbors into genocidalists? Why do some stand by, while others risk their lives to help? A narrative analysis of interviews with rescuers, bystanders, and Nazi supporters during World War II focuses attention on self-image, worldview, and cognitive categorization as critical influences. Rescuers, bystanders, and Nazis demonstrated dramatically different self concepts, yet identity constrained choice for all groups. A critical aspect of identity is relational: the sense of self in relation to others. Worldview, canonical expectations, and idealized cognitive models are critical determinants, with the ethical importance of values emanating not from particular values but from the integration of these values into the speaker's sense of self. Finally, cognitive categorization carries strong ethical overtones. The dehumanization that spurs perpetrators and the sense of moral salience that drives rescuers work through the cognitive classification of “the other.”