Nechama Tec, Polish Holocaust Survivor and Scholar, Dies at 92

Nechama Tec, a Polish Jew who pretended to be Roman Catholic to outlive the Holocaust and then grew to become a Holocaust scholar, writing about Jews as heroic resisters and why sure folks, even antisemites, grew to become rescuers, died on Aug. 3 at her house in Manhattan. She was 92.

Her loss of life was confirmed by her son, Roland.

In “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” (1993), Dr. Tec’s best-known guide, she described the brave actions of Tuvia Bielski, who commanded a resistance group that fought the Germans and, extra vital, saved some 1,200 Jews. The partisans entered ghettos below siege and introduced Jews again to the Belarusian forest, the place Mr. Bielski had constructed a neighborhood for them.

“Defiance” gave Dr. Tec a platform to indicate that Jews saved different Jews in the course of the warfare and had been extra lively in resisting the Nazis than some have generally believed.

When a good friend advised to the filmmaker Edward Zwick that “Defiance” would make film, he was not instantly persuaded.

“Not another movie about victims,” he recalled his response when he wrote in The New York Times about directing the film, launched in 2008, which starred Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski and Liev Schreiber as his brother Zus.

“No, this is a story about Jewish heroes,” he mentioned his good friend informed him. “Like the Maccabees, only better.”

As Mr. Zwick put it, “Rather than victims wearing yellow stars, here were fighters in fur chapkas brandishing submachine guns.”

After “Defiance,” Dr. Tec wrote “When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland” (1986). Her interviews with rescuers for that guide yielded a portrait of Christians who hid Jews, regardless of the probability of being imprisoned or killed for offering such support. They had been, she concluded, outsiders who had been marginal of their communities; had a historical past of performing good deeds; didn’t view their actions as heroic; and didn’t agonize over being useful.

The cowl of Dr. Tec’s guide “Defiance.”

“Many were casually antisemitic, but that wasn’t their prime purpose in life,” mentioned Christopher R. Browning, a Holocaust skilled who’s a professor emeritus of historical past at the University of North Carolina and who edited, with Dr. Tec and Richard S. Hollander, a set of letters written by Mr. Hollander’s Polish Jewish household from 1939 to 1942. “Using her skills as a sociologist, she was able to portray a more complex spectrum of interactions than the simplistic ones that people who didn’t collect empirical data as she had.”

Nechama Bawnik was born on May 15, 1931, in Lublin, Poland. Her father, Roman, owned a chemical manufacturing unit. Her mom, Esther (Finkelstein) Bawnik, was a homemaker.

Soon after the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939, Mr. Bawnik transferred title of his manufacturing unit, quite than have the Nazis confiscate it, to his foreman, who additionally gave him a job and a spot for the Bawniks, together with Nechama’s older sister, Giza, to reside on the highest ground of the constructing. Nechama hid within the residing quarters, her solely link to the skin a gap in a wall that permit her look onto the courtyard of a convent college.

As circumstances for Jews worsened and rumors of deportations frightened them, the household thought-about relocating to Warsaw however discovered it too perilous. In mid-1942, Nechama’s dad and mom despatched her and Giza to reside with a household in Otwock, Poland, a half-hour’s practice trip from Warsaw. Nechama had false papers that recognized her as Krysia Bloch. To assist her play the position, she discovered Catholic prayers and a household historical past.

The sisters, who each had blond hair and blue eyes, had been capable of cross as orphaned nieces of the household they had been residing with and moved round with out hiding. In the summer time of 1943, they and their dad and mom moved in with a household in Kielce.

When the Bawniks wanted cash in Kielce, Nechama’s mom baked rolls and despatched Nechama to promote them in an area black market. Nechama additionally bought bottles of vodka that had been distilled by an area farmer, Roland Tec mentioned. Once, he mentioned in a cellphone interview, a retailer denounced her and the Gestapo chased her away; when she returned, her father informed her to run into close by fields, whereas her dad and mom hid below floorboards, till it was secure.

After the warfare, the household returned briefly to Lublin and then moved to Berlin. In 1949, Nechama immigrated to Israel, the place she met Leon Tec, a Polish-born internist who later grew to become a baby psychiatrist. They married in 1950 and moved to the United States two years later.

Nechama studied sociology at Columbia University, the place she acquired a bachelor’s diploma in 1954 and a grasp’s in 1955.

After working at the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, she started educating sociology in 1957 at Columbia. She then taught at Rutgers University, returned to Columbia and moved to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., earlier than becoming a member of the sociology college of the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus, in 1974. She remained there for 36 years.

She earned a Ph.D., additionally in sociology, from Columbia, in 1965.

Dr. Tec mentioned that she had been decided to place her Holocaust previous behind her, however that in 1975 her childhood experiences demanded her consideration.

“When these demands turned into a compelling force,” she wrote in “Defiance,” “I decided to revisit my past by writing an autobiography.”

In that autobiography, “Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood” (1982), she recalled the angle that Helena, the grandmother within the household of rescuers in Kielce, had towards Jews.

“I would not harm a Jew,” Dr. Tec recalled Helena saying, “but I see no point in going out of my way to help one.” She added: “You and your family are not like Jews. If they wanted to send you away now, I would not let them.”

In one other guide, “Into the Lion’s Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen” (1990), Dr. Tec explored the lifetime of one other Polish Jew, who hid his identification, labored as a translator for the German police and helped save about 200 Jews within the Mir ghetto.

“Especially riveting are the details of his translations for his German superiors,” Susan Shapiro wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “in which his careful change of two words could save an entire Jewish community.”

After his identification was revealed, Mr. Rufeisen took refuge in a monastery, transformed to Catholicism and joined partisan fighters, according to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance and analysis middle in Jerusalem. He grew to become a Catholic priest after the warfare and moved to Israel, the place he joined a monastery on Mount Carmel.

In addition to her son, Dr. Tec is survived by her daughter, Leora Tec; two grandsons; one great-grandson; and a half sister, Catharina Knoll. Her husband and her sister, Giza Agmon, both died in 2013.

During the filming of “Defiance,” Dr. Tec was happy to see that the Bielski partisan camp within the Belarusian forest had been faithfully recreated in Lithuania, with a kitchen and workshops to restore sneakers and watches and to tan leather-based.

“She was in awe of what they had built; it was really incredible,” mentioned her son, who was a co-producer of the movie. He added: “As soon as Daniel Craig saw her on the set, he cornered her and spent an hour or an hour and a half asking her questions. It was wonderful.”

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button