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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Everyone knows the name of Anne Frank but few people remember anything about the people who sheltered her. Who were the rescuers and what motivated them to risk their lives for persecuted Jews? Clearly such people deserve to be remembered and honored. And clearly an understanding of their motivations may help us cultivate such behavior in our own day. This book focuses on such "righteous Christians." Tec, herself a Holocaust survivor helped by Christians, vividly recreates through hundreds of cases what it was like to pass and hide among Christians and what it was like to rescue Jews. Limiting her compass to Poland, where anti-Semitism was particularly extreme, the author interviewed dozens of people now living in many lands and also examined a vast array of published accounts and unpublished testimonies yielding case histories of over 500 Polish helpers. As the book preserves for posterity the heroism of such people as Celka, the impoverished governess, and her paralyzed father, who took into their one-room apartment a Jewish child, refused to baptize her without her family's permission, and even fed her before they themselves ate, or Dr. Felix Kabus, who developed and frequently performed an operation that camouflaged circumcision, or the famous anti-Semitic author who wrote publicly about what was happening to the Jews, the book fills a significant gap in our knowledge of the Holocaust. Considering the influence of such factors as class, education, religion, political persuasion, and friendship between the victims and rescuers, Tec finds only two common characteristics among this incredibly diverse group: an overpowering need to help others under any circumstances and an intense individualism. The rescuers were "individuals who did not rely on the opinions of others." Tec writes. About the Author: Nechama Tec, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connectucut, is also the author of Dry Tears.

Excerpt

"Yes, speaking," then silence. I introduced myself, explained the study, and told him that since he was a Holocaust survivor who had passed as a Christian, I would like to interview him. I was still explaining when he interrupted me: "My past is my own business, it is too private to be used by anyone . . ." I tried to point to the need, the importance, but there was barely time, for his angry, rough voice cut me short: "You heard me, I will not be a part of your study. My innermost feelings are not for exhibition, not for show . . ." His tone more than his words was a warning. Shaken and embarrassed, I hung up. And yet, I could identify with him.

For three years I lived in Poland under an assumed name, masking my Jewish identity and pretending to be a Catholic girl. I am one of the fortunate few who survived World War II by passing as a Christian. I was sheltered by Christian Poles without whose help my family and I would not have survived.

At the end of the war I resumed my former identity, determined to put the past behind me. I wanted to forget, to forget the person I had so desperately tried to become, to forget that which had forced me to become someone else, and to forget even the Christians who had helped me to stay alive. For years I shied away from wartime memories. Most of my friends, even close friends, knew nothing about my childhood. Nor was my relentless avoidance of the past limited to personal experiences. I stayed away from all readings, all viewing, all discussions of anything even remotely connected to the war. Whenever the subject did come up I kept my silence. Whenever asked a direct question I would answer so evasively that it was obvious no information would be forthcoming. Invariably the subject was dropped and I continued my self-imposed silence.

I succeeded in part, and in part only. Thirty years later my memories began to stir. They called for attention. At first weakly, almost imperceptibly, they began to tempt me to read. Later more forcefully an urge to talk began to assert itself The need to face and deal with my past became . . .

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