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

By Nechama Tec | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Conclusions

In wartime Poland a move to the forbidden Christian world gave Jews a chance to live. To survive in such a menacingly dangerous environment, one had to steel himself or herself to danger and hope that luck would be on one's side. If one wanted to survive, there was no choice but to try. The alternative was almost certain death.

Aware how precarious their predicament was, Jews on the Christian side waged a fierce struggle. In this struggle some found support and aid from Poles who, by the very nature of this association, put their own lives at risk as well.

While for Jews, failure to locate such helping Poles effectively eliminated their chances of survival, the opposite was true for these protectors; refusal to shield Jews would have removed a serious threat to their lives.

Brought together by different circumstances, the rescuers and the rescued, the Poles and the Jews, eventually came to face similar and highly interrelated perils. Considering the life-threatening nature of Jewish rescue, who were the Polish rescuers and what motivated them to risk their lives for the persecuted Jews?

Not unexpectedly, the Holocaust literature deals with these issues. Relying mainly on speculation, personal observations, personal experiences, as well as scattered case histories, previous writings on righteous aid fall into one of two categories. The first assumes that righteous Christians cannot be identified by special characteristics. Those who subscribe to this view argue that for a Jew it was impossible to predict who would and who would not help. There is some validity to this assertion. The literature and my research contain many illustrations of help extended by the least likely individuals, and denied by those who promised it, or who, because of a special relationship of love or friendship, were expected to provide it.

Those who feel that rescuers have no special characteristics in common also point to cases of known anti-Semites who, during the war, risked their lives for Jews. They argue that since such unlikely candidates as avid

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