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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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 after which turned a Holocaust scholar, writing about Jews as heroic resisters and why sure individuals, even antisemites, turned rescuers, died on Aug. 3 at her residence in Manhattan. She was 92.

Her dying was confirmed by her son, Roland.

In “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” (1993), Dr. Tec’s best-known e book, she described the brave actions of Tuvia Bielski, who commanded a resistance group that fought the Germans and, extra necessary, 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 group 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 steered to the filmmaker Edward Zwick that “Defiance” would make a superb film, he was not instantly persuaded.

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

“No, this can be a story about Jewish heroes,” he mentioned his good friend advised him. “Just like the Maccabees, solely higher.”

As Mr. Zwick put it, “Reasonably than victims sporting yellow stars, right here had been fighters in fur chapkas brandishing submachine weapons.”

By then Dr. Tec had written “When Gentle Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland” (1986). Her interviews with rescuers for that e book yielded a portrait of Christians who hid Jews, regardless of the chance of being imprisoned or killed for offering such help. 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 duvet of Dr. Tec’s e book “Defiance.”

“Many had been casually antisemitic, however that wasn’t their prime function in life,” mentioned Christopher R. Browning, a Holocaust knowledgeable who’s a professor emeritus of historical past on the College 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. “Utilizing her abilities as a sociologist, she was capable of painting a extra complicated spectrum of interactions than the simplistic ones that individuals who didn’t gather empirical knowledge as she had.”

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

Quickly after the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939, Mr. Bawnik transferred title of his manufacturing unit, slightly 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 stay on the highest ground of the constructing. Nechama hid within the residing quarters, her solely hyperlink to the skin a gap in a wall that allow her look onto the courtyard of a convent faculty.

As circumstances for Jews worsened and rumors of deportations frightened them, the household thought of relocating to Warsaw however discovered it too perilous. In mid-1942, Nechama’s dad and mom despatched her and Giza to stay with a household in Otwock, Poland, a half-hour’s prepare journey from Warsaw. Nechama had false papers that recognized her as Krysia Bloch. To assist her play the function, she realized 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 summertime 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 a neighborhood black market. Nechama additionally offered bottles of vodka that had been distilled by a neighborhood farmer, Roland Tec mentioned. As soon as, he mentioned in a cellphone interview, a retailer denounced her and the Gestapo chased her away; when she returned, her father advised 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 after which moved to Berlin. In 1949, Nechama immigrated to Israel, the place she met Leon Tec, a Polish-born internist who later turned a toddler psychiatrist. They married in 1950 and moved to the USA two years later.

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

After working on the New York State Division of Psychological Hygiene, she started instructing sociology in 1957 at Columbia. She then taught at Rutgers College, returned to Columbia and moved to Trinity Faculty in Hartford, Conn., earlier than becoming a member of the sociology college of the College 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 calls for changed into a compelling pressure,” she wrote in “Defiance,” “I made a decision to revisit my previous by writing an autobiography.”

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

“I’d not hurt a Jew,” Dr. Tec recalled Helena saying, “however I see no level in going out of my method to assist one.” She added: “You and your loved ones usually are not like Jews. In the event that they needed to ship you away now, I’d not allow them to.”

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

“Particularly riveting are the main points of his translations for his German superiors,” Susan Shapiro wrote in The New York Instances Ebook Overview, “wherein his cautious change of two phrases might save a whole Jewish group.”

After his id was revealed, Mr. Rufeisen took refuge in a monastery, transformed to Catholicism and joined partisan fighters, in line with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance and analysis heart in Jerusalem. He turned a Catholic priest after the warfare and moved to Israel, the place he joined a monastery on Mount Carmel.

Along with 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, each died in 2013.

Through 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 footwear and watches and to tan leather-based.

“She was in awe of what they’d constructed; it was actually unimaginable,” mentioned her son, who was a co-producer of the movie. He added: “As quickly as Daniel Craig noticed her on the set, he cornered her and spent an hour or an hour and a half asking her questions. It was great.”

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