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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. 

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