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Volume 17, No.2 / Fall 2003            
Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust, Part 2
Reflections on Nechama Tec's Life and Work

Recent Works by Nechama Tec
When Light Pierced the Darkness
      • Review
      • Questions & Activities

In the Lion's Den
      • Review
      • Questions and Timeline

Defiance: The Bielski Partisans
      • Questions & Activities

Resilience and Courage
      • Review
Reflections on Nechama Tec's Life and Work


Selections from Nechama Tec’s Reflections on her life and works: “Personal, Educational and Research Encounters”

Nechama Tec (left) with Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League National Director (middle), and her husband Dr. Leon Tec (right)

In this recent essay, Dr. Tec describes how her work on one book leads to new questions, which, in turn, lead to a new research and writing project.

[Nechama Tec reflects on how working on her memoir Dry Tears raised questions about rescue that she explored in When Light Pierced the Darkness.  In her discussion of this process, she offers insights into her approach to research projects and her efforts to develop appropriate methodology to pursue her inquiries.]

As I was recording the past [her memoir Dry Tears], new questions kept recurring.  I wanted to know what was it like for other Jews to pass.  Who of the Jews had moved to the forbidden Christian world?  Did they pass or hide?  Who was protecting them, how and why?  What made these Christian rescuers defy all dangers and risk their lives for those who saved Jews....  I wanted to know what motivated such people to risk their lives for the persecuted and haunted.

I felt compelled not only to know answers to these questions, but was also eager to share them with others.  Similarly, I realized that my need to know and to share could not be satisfied by going over my personal experiences alone.  Poles had rescued my family and me and for some of them the main motivation was money; only with time did bonds of affection develop between us and some of those who helped us for profit.  I knew that my ideas about Christian helpers were inevitably colored by my experiences.  As a research sociologist, I also knew that one case history, my own, could give me only limited answers to the many issues I raised.  For these answers I turned to the voluminous Holocaust literature.  There I found many interesting descriptions of Jews who tried to survive in the forbidden Christian world and Christians who risked their lives to rescue them.

However, the literature contained very few systematic explanations about rescue, rescuers, and the conditions associated with the life of these rescuers and the rescued.  Here and there I found efforts to generalize.  However, the results of these efforts were often contradictory.  For example, one explanation claimed that lower class individuals were more likely to help Jews because they, rather than higher-class people, suffered from various deprivations and hence could more easily identify with the Jewish plight.  In contrast, another interpretation claimed that higher-class individuals were more likely to rescue Jews.  This was then explained by the fact that the higher classes were more educated and therefore more aware about the political situation than the rest of the population.  Such inconsistent efforts to generalize could be greatly multiplied.  Convinced about the advantages of arriving at some general explanations, unable to find such explanations, I embarked on my own research project.  In fact, I made an early decision to pursue these sometimes contradictory assertions.  Eventually, the book When Light Pierced the Darkness, which grew out of this project, includes a systematic examination of these consistent and inconsistent assertions.

[Throughout her work, Professor Tec sees an interdependence between her research, writing and teaching.]

Into my overall desire to gain fresh insights and more knowledge about life as it had existed during the Holocaust and more generally in extremis, I have been aware of and benefited from the close interdependence between teaching, conducting research, and efforts to theoretically explain these connections.  The key aims of this process are cooperative, mutually gratifying attempts to generate and answer questions. 

Nechama Tec



Dimensions Online
Volume 18, No. 1, Fall 2004
Yehuda Bauer

Volume 17, No. 2, Fall 2003
Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust--Part II

Volume 17, No.1, Spring 2003
Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust-- Part I

Volume 16, No. 1, Fall 2002
Remembrance and Commemoration of Two Catastrophes: September 11th and the Holocaust

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