Remembering Nechama Tec

Nechama Tec — a longtime Westport resident and, the New York Times notes, “a Polish Jew who pretended to be Roman Catholic to survive the Holocaust and then became a Holocaust scholar, writing about Jews as heroic resisters and why certain people, even antisemites, became rescuers” — died August 3 in New York. She was 92.

“Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” — her best-known work, written in 1993 — was made into the movie “Defiance” 15 years later.

Her book “gave Dr. Tec a platform to show that Jews saved other Jews during the war and were more active in resisting the Nazis than some have commonly believed,” the Times said.

In “When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,” Dr. Tec offered “a portrait of Christians who hid Jews, despite the likelihood of being imprisoned or killed for providing such aid. They were, she concluded, outsiders who were marginal in their communities; had a history of performing good deeds; did not view their actions as heroic; and did not agonize over being helpful.”

After World War II, her family moved from Poland to Berlin. In 1949 she immigrated to Israel, where she met her future husband Leon Tec, a Polish-born doctor who became a noted child psychiatrist. They moved to the US in 1952, and to Westport in 1960.

Nechama Tec (Photo courtesy of Tec family, via New York Times)

Nechama earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia University. She taught sociology there, then at Rutgers University, Trinity College and — for 36 years — the University of Connecticut’s Stamford branch.

She received a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia in 1965. Her honors include a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

Dr. Tec is survived by her son Roland, daughter Leora, 2 grandsons, 1 great-grandson, and a half-sister, Catharina Knoll. She was pre-deceased by her husband and sister, Giza Agmon.


A celebration of her life will be held October 1 (3 p.m., Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, New York City). Click here for the New York Times’ full obituary. 

7 responses to “Remembering Nechama Tec

  1. Michael Ronemus

    I never stop being amazed at the people who live in or have crossed paths with Westport Connecticut. What a life she lived. Thank you Dan for writing these memorials about the fascinating people who have lived in Westport.

  2. Jack Backiel

    I totally agree with what Michael just wrote. What an incredible person!

  3. Rumi Matsuyama

    I was so lucky to have met both Drs Tec through my high school BFF, Roland Tec. What amazingly brilliant, funny, passionate, loving people and parents they both were, and their memories are a blessing. My heart goes out to the family. I read Dr Tec’s memoir, Dry Tears, decades ago and it is as gripping and heartbreaking a story as one could imagine.


    The most influential professor of my academic career. I have spoken of her to friends and family dozens of times. In my world, she was a giant. She left the world a better place, and me, a better human.

  5. Isabelle Breen

    How sad to hear of her passing, yet happy that hers was a long life. She was my Anthropology of the Family professor at UConn in the 90’s. We all read her memoir Dry Tears, very impactful. She was a wonderful teacher who left a powerful impression on me. Condolences to the family.

  6. Thank you, Dan Woog, for all you do for the Westport community. Very moved to see this notice here. You are a treasure of Westport. Keep up the good work!

  7. Diana B Pils Marino

    What a fabulous life and purpose she had. Prayers and condolences for the family and to my Coleytown and Staples Classmate, Leora. I’m sorry about your Mom. She will be watching over you.