Varlam Shalamov’s protagonist of Prosthesis - from The Kolyma Tales - is detained in the gulag; when his executioners are willing to deprive him of everything, he says: “I won’t give you my soul!”. In this phrase, the essence of the Righteous is held: the ones who refused to “sell their sorrow” in extreme situations, even in fear of passing to the victims’ field or loosing a way out, in front of persecutions, hatred, discrimination.
The defense of human dignity therefore turns out to be self defense, first of all, defense of one’s own moral integrity, even while helping another human being. This is why we can define as right the act of the one who defends the victims’ dignity together with self-humanity. Quoting Talmud’s famous sentence “who saves a life, saves the world”, we can now say that “the ones who save their selves, save the world”, not by defending their lives, but their souls, listening to the true voice of conscience.
Rarely in gulag it was possible to give aid to any other prisoner, but everyday it was possibile to try taking position against the process of dehumanization actuated by the perverse mechanism of camp labour. To abstain from informing or steeling a piece of bread form another prisoner, feel pity for the one laying beside your bed, indignation in front of the never ending oppression that involved all prisoners, though knowing it was necessary to keep fighting every moment of the day in order to survive - it was the greatest humanity a man could strive for, in such desperate condition. Courage and strength were fundamental.
Outside the gulag, in the civil society, it was not so different - but for the intensity of the persecution: it was hard to oppose to the power diktats, which asked to betray the family, disown friendship bonds, repel one’s own identity roots in the name of the Communist ideal. Women had an important role in maintaining a space of humanity in the familiar sphere, especially when it was asked them to divorce from their husbands if accused to be enemies of the people and therefore sent to the gulags. Who resisted, paid hard they denial: they lost they homes, jobs, sometime their children too, sent to orphanages or exploited in their childhood and teen fragility, in order to involve them in the ideological battle against their loved ones.
Other aspects characterized the civil society dominium in Nazi Germany; nevertheless, it is possibile to find a common denominator in the power request to relinquish to self-individuality in the name of a superior ideological value - a new man centered on the purity of the race, collectively based on Nation as the expression of a community exclusively composed by superior men (pure arian people).
Who refused to endorse this plan of building a collective inhuman prototype has been persecuted till death. Sophie Scholl, a twenty-years old student from Munich, paid with her life, together with the university friends, the defense of her dignity and the sort of the people she was proud of, because of what that people managed to give to whole humanity in literature, philosophy and arts.