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

By Nechama Tec | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Friendship

Because it is assumed, perhaps even seen as a given, that in times of trouble friends will do for others what strangers will not, certain assumptions about the nature of rescue during World War II gave prominence to friendship. Some have suggested friendship as the primary motivating factor, noting that most Poles who hid Jews, or helped them pass, were helping personal friends who were Jewish. 1 Others, while acknowledging the influence of friendship, have not named it the dominant motivation. 2 Still others have challenged the notion that friendship played any role at all. This last group has found that only a tiny minority of those who had Jewish friends did harbor these friends, that most others either did not consider the friendship compelling enough or, despite the pull of friendship, still turned their former friends away. 3

My own examination of the data tends to support the following factual conclusions. Only a minority of those saved reported having been saved by friends. Many reported approaching friends first, being turned down, and then being aided by strangers. More than half simply said they were protected by strangers. 4 While Jewish disappointment at the refusals of aid by friends is not surprising, what is quite unexpected are the number of survivors who remarked that, given the danger involved in helping, they often understood when former friends denied them aid. The survivor Pola Stein, for example, articulated this position, noting: I do not accuse anyone that did not hide or help a Jew. We cannot demand from others to sacrifice their lives. One has no right to demand such risks.

But if the majority of Jews who were helped do not recall having been helped by personal friends, and if, as I have said, the majority of Poles who had Jewish friends did not help these friends, there is still another possibility to be considered before I dismiss friendship as a factor. Perhaps there is a correlation between friendship and help in that those Poles who did help Jewish friends also helped others who were not friends. This may be because those among the Polish population at large who had established prior

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