For 3 a long time after the Holocaust, Nechama Tec tried to maneuver previous her wartime recollections. She refused to learn in regards to the genocide or watch films about World Struggle II, focusing as an alternative on her sociology profession in america, the place she studied teenage drug use within the Connecticut suburbs. When acquaintances heard her accent and requested the place she got here from, she would reply bluntly: “Europe.” It was clear from her tone the dialog was over.
But within the mid-Nineteen Seventies, Dr. Tec started to search out herself drawn again to childhood recollections, returning to days spent hiding in cellars, memorizing pretend identities and peering via a crack within the wall, dreaming of a extra regular girlhood whereas watching different youngsters play throughout the road. “First, very gently,” the recollections “demanded consideration,” she recalled years later. “Then, extra forcefully, they insisted on being heard.”
Once they lastly “threatened to turn out to be a compulsion,” she wrote a memoir, “Dry Tears” (1982), recounting her expertise as a younger Jewish lady in German-occupied Poland. Along with her blond hair, blue eyes and flawless Polish accent, she managed to cross as Catholic for 3 years, dwelling underneath a false identification and escaping sure loss of life with assist from Polish households that additionally sheltered her dad and mom and older sister.
Writing the e book helped her reply questions she had about herself and her household, in addition to her rescuers and her would-be killers: the Nazis and their collaborators, who murdered an estimated 6 million Jews whereas making an attempt to exterminate European Jewry. However alongside the way in which she discovered herself with new questions, together with in regards to the expertise of different Jews who lived in hiding and the Polish individuals who risked their lives to assist.
Dr. Tec, who died Aug. 3 at 92, spent the remainder of her tutorial profession exploring problems with resilience, braveness and compassion, rising as a number one scholar of the Holocaust via books equivalent to “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” (1993), a chronicle of Jewish resistance within the forests of present-day Belarus. The e book was tailored right into a 2008 movie starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, and provided a corrective to the misperception that Jewish folks had been passive throughout the battle, going off like so-called “sheep to the slaughter,” in line with her colleague Joel Blatt, a historian on the College of Connecticut’s Stamford campus.
“In a world the place most students are desirous about why folks do evil, she was a scholar of altruism, and believed that tales of altruism would possibly encourage different folks to behave in comparable methods,” mentioned Blatt, who taught a Holocaust course with Dr. Tec for round 30 years.
Dr. Tec was an early advocate for the usage of particular person Holocaust testimonies and oral histories, and would change between French, German, Yiddish, English, Polish and Hebrew to conduct interviews with survivors. Drawing on her personal wartime expertise, she requested “probing questions that different interviewers wouldn’t really feel comfy asking, or wouldn’t know to ask,” mentioned Avinoam Patt, the director of the College of Connecticut’s Heart for Judaic Research and Modern Jewish Life.
For her first scholarly work on the Holocaust, “When Mild Pierced the Darkness” (1986), Dr. Tec spoke with dozens of Polish Christians who had rescued Jews, making an attempt to determine what motivated them to behave when so many others remained idle or backed the Nazi regime. Many had been nonconformists, she discovered, motivated not by class or faith however by a way of elementary decency, even when they could have continued to nurture long-standing resentments towards Jews.
Her follow-up, “Within the Lion’s Den: The Lifetime of Oswald Rufeisen” (1990), instructed the story of a younger Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust by pretending to be half German and half Polish, and who helped avoid wasting 200 Jews in Mir, now a part of Belarus, whereas working as an interpreter for the German police. Pressured to enter hiding, he discovered refuge at a monastery, determined to transform to Christianity and went on to serve in a resistance group.
“One other biographer might need been tempted to label Mr. Rufeisen a hero, or an odd man in extraordinary circumstances, or a spiritual zealot,” wrote New York Occasions reviewer Susan Shapiro. “To Ms. Tec’s credit score, she permits these contradictions to coexist in her pages.”
Dr. Tec mentioned she initially targeted her Holocaust analysis on two classes of individuals: Polish rescuers and Jewish survivors. However she got here to consider that she had ignored the extent to which Jews performed an lively function in combating for survival, and sought to fill a gap within the historic document — exhibiting, as she put it, that “Jews had been decided to outlive” and “refused to turn out to be passive victims” — with “Defiance.”
The e book documented the efforts of Tuvia Bielski, a Belarusian Jew who, with a number of of his brothers, fought the Germans and their collaborators whereas serving to save greater than 1,200 Jews. Their actions marked “essentially the most huge rescue operation of Jews by Jews,” in line with Dr. Tec, who reported on the group’s efforts to smuggle Jews out of ghettos and into the forest, the place the partisans developed a camouflaged neighborhood that grew to incorporate a hospital, college, bakery, barber store and synagogue.
“We could also be killed whereas we attempt to stay,” she quoted Tuvia as saying, “but when we die, we die like human beings.”
Edward Zwick, who went on to direct and co-write the film adaptation, mentioned that when a good friend introduced the e book to his consideration, he was initially skeptical, believing that it was one more morbid story about Jewish victims. Then he started to learn.
“The triumph of the three Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus and Asael, who fought the Nazis within the deep forests of Belarus and saved 1,200 lives, was not like something I had ever examine that darkish time,” he wrote in a 2008 essay for the New York Occasions. “Quite than victims carrying yellow stars, right here had been fighters in fur chapkas brandishing submachine weapons. As a substitute of helplessness and submission, right here had been rage and resistance.”
The youthful of two youngsters, Dr. Tec was born Nechama Bawnik in Lublin, Poland, on Might 15, 1931. Her father owned a pair of chemical and candle factories, and after the Germans marched into town in 1939 her mom was employed as a housekeeper for a Nazi official. Whereas serving meals, she would pay attention to her employers’ conversations, gathering data. When she realized that the Germans had been about to eliminate town’s remaining Jews, relocating some to a brand new ghetto and deporting the remainder, the household fled.
They took refuge in an higher room of the chemical manufacturing facility, the place they had been protected by a German commissioner pleasant with Dr. Tec’s father. With assist from a cousin, they obtained false identification papers in late 1942 and moved to Warsaw, dwelling illegally underneath Catholic identities.
Dr. Tec and her sister, Giza, had been quickly despatched to town of Otwock, the place they handed as nieces of a Catholic household that was paid to take them in. They later rejoined their dad and mom in Kielce, within the south of Poland, the place they lived with a household of poor laborers. Their dad and mom, whose appears and accent hinted at their Jewish identities, spent almost three years in hiding there whereas Dr. Tec and her sister tried to take care of a facade of normalcy.
“An additional layer of secretiveness, mixed with a worry of discovery, turned a part of my being,” she wrote in “Dry Tears.” “All my life revolved round hiding; hiding ideas, hiding emotions, hiding my actions, hiding data.”
After the battle, she and her household briefly returned to Lublin, the place they realized that they had been one among solely three households to outlive intact. Solely 150 of town’s 40,000 Jews survived the battle years, in line with Dr. Tec.
Dr. Tec later moved to West Berlin and, in 1949, immigrated to Israel, the place she met a Polish-born doctor, Leon Tec, later a toddler psychiatrist. They married in 1950 and immigrated to america two years later, settling in New York.
Whereas her husband accomplished a residency program, Dr. Tec studied sociology at Columbia College, receiving a bachelor’s diploma in 1954, a grasp’s in 1955 and a doctorate in 1963. She taught at Columbia, Rutgers College and Trinity School in Hartford, Conn., earlier than becoming a member of the college of the College of Connecticut at Stamford in 1974.
Her later work included the Holocaust books “Resilience and Braveness” (2003), which examined the differing experiences of women and men throughout wartime, and “Resistance” (2013), which additional argued in opposition to stereotypes of Jewish passivity.
Dr. Tec’s loss of life, at residence in Manhattan, was confirmed by her son, Roland, a co-producer of “Defiance.” He didn’t cite a trigger. Dr. Tec additionally had a daughter, Leora Tec, who was impressed by Dr. Tec’s work to discovered a journey group known as Bridge to Poland, which highlights the historical past of Jewish life within the nation.
Along with her two youngsters, survivors embrace two grandsons and a great-grandson. Dr. Tec can be survived by a half brother and half sister from her father, who separated from Dr. Tec’s mom after the battle and stored the youngsters secret; Dr. Tec found their existence solely after being contacted by her half sister, who learn “Dry Tears” and acknowledged her father within the e book, in line with the household. Her husband and her sister, Giza Agmon, each died in 2013, just a few years after Dr. Tec retired from instructing.
In a cellphone interview, her colleague Blatt mentioned that Dr. Tec had an uncommon rapport with college students that was evident at any time when she answered questions within the classroom.
“She would divine what was beneath the query — she would really feel what was troubling the scholars,” he recalled. “She was unerring in that, simply good at it. I believe that’s why her books had been so good, as a result of she would perceive the folks she was interviewing, what was said and unspoken, and work very fastidiously on drawing it out.”
“She bought right down to human bedrock, the way in which folks actually stay,” he added. “Often a scholar would ask, ‘Why do you research the Holocaust?’ And he or she would say, ‘In excessive conditions, you see the way in which folks actually are.’”