Tec, Nechama

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TEC, Nechama

Nationality: American (originally Polish: immigrated to the United States, 1952, naturalized citizen, 1960). Born: Nechama Bawnik, Lublin, 15 May 1931. Education: Columbia University, New York, B.A. 1954, M.A. 1955, Ph.D. 1963. Family: Married Leon Tec in 1950; one daughter and one son. Career: Research sociologist in biometrics, New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, 1956-57; research director, Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance Center, Norwalk, Connecticut, 1968-79. Since 1974 professor of sociology, University of Connecticut, Stamford. Also taught at Columbia University, Rutgers University, and Trinity College. Scholar-in-residence, Yad Vashem, 1995; senior research fellow, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1997. Awards: Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith merit of distinction award, for When Light Pierced the Darkness and for Dry Tears ; Christopher award, 1991, for In the Lion's Den; International Anne Frank Special Recognition prize, 1994, and World Federation of Fighters, Partisans, and Concentration Camp Survivors prize for Holocaust literature, 1995, both for Defiance; American Society for Yad Vashem achievement award, 2001.



Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood. 1984.

When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland. 1986.


Gambling in Sweden: A Sociological Study. 1962.

Family and Differential Involvement with Marihuana: A Study of Suburban Teenagers. 1970.

Grass Is Green in Suburbia: A Sociological Study of Adolescent Usage of Illicit Drugs. 1974.

In the Lion's Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeison (history). 1990.

Defiance: The Bielski Partisans (history). 1993.

Jewish Resistance: Facts, Omissions, and Distortions (his-tory). 1997.


Critical Studies:

"When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi Occupied Poland, Nechama Tec" by Vera Laska, in International Journal on World Peace, VII(4), December 1990, p. 92; "In the Lion's Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen" by Neal Pease, in Catholic Historical Review, LXXVII(2), April 1991, p. 323.

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Nechama (Bawnik) Tec's formal education and early career were in the fields of sociology and mental health, and she wrote about these subjects in Grass Is Green in Suburbia: A Sociological Study of Adolescent Usage of Illicit Drugs (1974). Beginning in 1977, however, she focused her research on issues relating to the Shoah, including altruism, resistance to evil, the rescue of Jews during World War II, and gender and the destruction of European Jewry. She spent 1995 as a scholar-in-residence at Yad Vashem, Israel's national museum and archive of Holocaust commemoration, and 1997 as a senior research fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where she researched Jewish resistance. Among her published works are Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood (1984), her personal story of survival in Nazi-occupied Poland; When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland (1986), in which the rescuers exhibit a universalistic sense of caring, an independence of moral judgment, and a refusal to be persuaded by Nazi propaganda in defining the identity of the Slavic self as servile, base people and of the Jewish other as nonhuman; In the Lion's Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeison (1990), a sympathetic biography of Brother Daniel, a Jewish-born Shoah survivor and convert to Catholicism, who passed as half-German and half-Polish and saved hundreds of Jews and Christians, yet whose appeal in 1962 for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return was denied by the Israeli Supreme Court based on national-historical not religious grounds, becoming a cause célébre in the ongoing and widespread debate over the question of who is a Jew; and Defiance: The Bielski Partisans (1993), the virtually forgotten story of Tuvia Bielski, who, from his base of operations in the Nalibocka Forest (primarily) in western Belorussia, helped organize and led the largest armed Jewish self-help otriad in the rescue of Jews in World War II.

Tec is among the handful of female Holocaust researchers and survivors who have been making the "invisible female voice" of the event heard. She has written not only about Christian and Jewish acts of altruism but also about the emotional and conceptual longing that occurred before, during, and after the act of rescue. Her protracted investigation makes clear and distinct the voices of ordinary men and women, Christian and Jew, who are not neutral to the victim's cry "Do not forget." Her works reflect a slice of Shoah history in behavioral terms. For example, in When Light Pierced the Darkness she focused on the question of what constitutes Christian concern for Jews; in Defiance she sought to understand the Jew as victim and rescuer. And old-new questions continue to surface. Consider the ethical paradox posed by Bielski's credible conviction, "It is more important to save one Jew than to kill twenty Germans," and the passionate scream of a 75-year-old Jewish partisan when he killed a captured SS man, "God, my grandfather was not a murderer, my father was not a murderer, but I will be a murderer." Tec offers no judgment.

—Zev Garber

See the essay on Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood.