Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood

Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood

Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood

Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood


This is the true story of Nechama Tec, whose family found refuge with Polish Christians during the Holocaust. Dry Tears is a dramatic tale of how an eleven-year-old child learned to "pass in the forbidding Christian world and a quietly moving coming-of-age story. This book is unique celebration of the best human qualities that surface under the worst conditions.


Shortly after the occupation of Lublin in 1939 Jewish children had been barred from attending school and private instruction was prohibited. As with all such Nazi directives, disobedience if discovered met with severe punishment, even death.

When our own school was closed -- I was eight at the time -- I was not in the least upset. But my parents reacted differently. They insisted that after the war my sister and I would need all the education we could get. And although I could not share their love and respect for education, their conviction that for us there would be an "after the war" impressed me. Like them, I too believed that we would survive the war.

Before long my parents engaged Hela Trachtenberg, the daughter of my father's accountant, to tutor my sister and me. Thirty, single, eager to earn a living, Hela had recently come from Warsaw, where she had been working as a high school teacher. Highly educated and reliable, she was well suited for her new position. My parents arranged for her to come to our house at least four hours each day. She was to instruct us in all subjects, including Latin, mathematics, science, and literature. My sister and I were at once curious and apprehensive about our teacher. Her age placed her automatically in the category of old maid, concerning whom we had strange ideas, none of them positive. Determined to learn more about Hela, we pestered our parents with questions. We learned only that in Warsaw she had been engaged to a lawyer who had abruptly walked out of her life. This vague report gave rise to many conjectures, none of which were important, and none of which we could verify. In any case, I was opposed to lessons of all sorts, and especially to lessons from someone who, I decided, by the nature of things, was sure to be an inferior teacher.

But no one consulted me, and the morning arrived when I met Hela Trachtenberg. As we shook hands I was stiff and ill at ease, fearful that I would inadvertently show my resentment. Hela gave me a penetrating look, followed by a broad smile. "She is trying to bribe me," I thought. Still distrustful, still curious, I noticed that the gray eyes behind her glasses, though squinting, were unusually lively and intelligent. Beginning to relax a little, I also noticed that Hela Trachtenberg was of medium height and slim, with ash-blond hair and regular features. Because of the squint and her pallor she was not attractive. And yet, right then and there, I did realize that she was special. There was something open about her. Without being able to put my feelings into words I sensed in her a certain strength, combined with gentleness and kindness, all enlivened by wit. There was a charming twinkle in those eyes behind the glasses. I could not resist her. I felt all my reservations melting away. A glance at my sister told me that she too was strongly drawn to this stranger.

Then I heard a soft melodious voice. "I am Hela Trachtenberg. I've come to teach you. I hope it will be fun for all of us. Let me first find out what you know." She wanted us to take a test right then and . . .

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