WHEN LIGHT PIERCED THE DARKNESS: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Nechama Tec

WHEN LIGHT PIERCED THE DARKNESS: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here, Tec, who earlier told the moving story of having survived the Holocaust disguised as a Christian child in Nazi-dominated Poland, has extrapolated on her own experiences in an attempt to discover the role ""righteous Christians"" played in rescuing Polish Jews during WW II. Interviewing Jewish survivors, Christian helpers, both paid and unpaid, and Poles who even today admit to having been indifferent to the fate of the Jews or to having been too terrified to assist them, Tec probes into the mysteries of human courage and human fear, of altruism and self-preservation. Tec goes about her investigation with admirable thoroughness. She first analyzes what part friendship played in Christians' aid to Jews. Because Polish Jews and Christians came into very little social contact before and during WW II, friendships had a negligible impact, Tec finds. As did religious affiliations. In fact, many Polish Catholics had to ignore the sermons of their priests and follow the promptings of their own consciences when assisting Jews. On the other hand, many convents and monasteries harbored Jewish children for years after baptizing them. Whether this was in the interest of protection or conversion is still unclear. Political loyalties and class feelings were equally unlikely to guarantee assistance, though the poor and the better educated were more apt to shield Jews than the rich and the illiterate, it seems. The one determining factor which Tec was able to pinpoint in her scrupulous investigations was that rescuers for the most part felt themselves outsiders in Polish society. They were those who ""went their own way,"" who ""made up their own minds,"" imbued with what Tec calls ""feelings of universalism."" That is, they felt obliged to relieve the sufferings of fellow human beings sharply because they were human. ""What else could I have done?"" is the most frequent response of these ""righteous Christians"" when asked why they risked their lives to harbor the persecuted. For bringing their selfless actions to the attention of the world, even after so many years, Tec is to be congratulated. . .and thanked. A work long overdue.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press