Emotional Intelligence and the Holocaust: Leadership at the Personal Level

Posted by Dr. Holly Latty-Mann on

I have an 82-year old friend, Solly Ganor, who amazingly survived Dachau among many other life-threatening Nazi dangers during the early-to-mid 1940s when he was just a teenager. Although there is a part of me that believes Solly had to have had some kind of constant and consistent divine intervention and guidance, unquestionably Solly’s emotional intelligence played a huge role in his own survival and that of others.

Once emotional intelligence is well honed, there is a certain social knowingness that creates communicating under difficult circumstances almost an intuitive, spontaneous engagement that favors a positive outcome.  Without the effort of conscious thinking, one can consider consequentially the possible responses  to one’s verbal and nonverbal communication and tweak accordingly, all within the matter of seconds.  It may be either what we do or say or what we don’t do or say that determines the outcome we strive to achieve. It would be extraordinary for any of us to have such high stakes as Solly Ganor as we navigate our social world through our current skill level of emotional intelligence.  

Author of Light One Candle, Solly Ganor has already earned fame in Europe. Upon reading his book that had been recommended by one of our leadership workshop graduates, Barry Koplen, I contacted Solly, and we’ve since developed a friendship that seems to have spanned years instead of months. I asked Solly if he’d be willing to offer some examples of how his own emotional intelligence likely saved his life as well as an example of how he witnessed someone else not using emotional intelligence that resultantly cost his or her life.  This is how Solly responded to the latter, using an excerpt from his original manuscript dated July, 1944.

July 1944 – “While we were marching in the rain through the streets of Kovno, some tried to escape and were quickly shot down by the guards. I could hear the submachine guns shooting all along the marching columns. Dozens of men were killed that way; nevertheless a few managed to escape. I too was looking up and down the streets trying to find a way to escape. My parents and my sister Fanny told me that I should try to save myself when an  opportunity presented itself. At one point when the rain was coming down really heavy, and the black clouds darkened the sky, I saw a man suddenly step out of the column and turn quickly into a side street. My heart began to beat faster, and I was about to follow him when he made the mistake of his life. He started running. A Gestapo man who jumped out of nowhere saw a man running and opened fire on him. I saw him fall and lay still in a puddle of water that soon turned red. If he hadn’t lost his nerve and would have quietly walked on, the German perhaps would have thought that he was a Christian Lithuanian. Only those that didn’t look Jewish and kept a cool head managed to escape.  Had I followed the man, I would have been lying there next to him, dead in a water puddle,  or, perhaps  if I used my intelligence and didn’t panic I may have walked away to freedom.  After that incident I didn’t try to escape anymore. Had I known what was waiting for us in the Nazi concentration camps,  I would have taken the risk, come what may. (Excerpts from my original manuscript.)”

Strong emotional intelligence involves the ability to automatically consider consequentially the impact of one’s words or actions.  In all fairness, I must preface my comments with the acknowledgement that under such dire circumstances, it’s hardly fair to judge anyone who made a fatal mistake. It is highly likely that when faced with almost certain death, even those with strong emotional intelligence could send out unintended cues, no matter how subtle. However, in this instance, the running was not subtle and was furthermore certain to draw attention to himself.  Our own law enforcement personnel may question people who are drawing attention to themselves in non-criminal ways (e.g., running out of a store, driving too slowly, looking nervous while examining merchandise, etc.).

Can you think of an example in a corporate setting where someone’s communication elicited a negative response such that had they thought of the possible consequences of their behaviors, they could have avoided the negative impact?

4 responses to “Emotional Intelligence and the Holocaust: Leadership at the Personal Level”

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  4. solly ganor says:

    Dear Holly,

    I found your article on my facebook wall. Thanks for writing it.