Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, presented the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to Dr. Nechama Tec, sociologist and Holocaust scholar, at the College-Institute's Graduation Ceremonies of the 133rd academic year, held at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York on April 30, 2008.
In presenting the doctoral degree citation to Dr. Nechama Tec, Rabbi Ellenson said, "We recognize Dr. Nechama Tec's gifts as a university professor whose teaching has enriched and inspired generations of students and whose prolific writings have enhanced the world of scholarship. Her research into the relationships between self-preservation, compassion, altruism, rescue, resistance, cooperation, and gender has made her a strong voice in Holocaust studies. A child survivor of the Holocaust, her memoir entitled Dry Tears: Story of a Lost Childhood records her life's story and reflects the trajectories of Jewish survival in this past century."
Dr. Nechama Tec, Professor Emerita of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, Stamford, received her Ph.D. from Columbia University. In 2002 she was appointed by President Bush to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. She also serves on the Academic Advisory Committee at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 1997 she was a Senior Research Fellow at the Miles Lerman Center for the Study of Jewish Resistance at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 1995 she was a Scholar-in-Residence at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
A Holocaust scholar, Tec is the co-author of Letters of Hope and Despair (with Christopher Browning, et al, 2007); and the author of Resilience and Courage: Women, Men and the Holocaust (2003, winner of the National Jewish Book Award and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award); Defiance: The Bielski Partisans (1993, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize); In the Lion's Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen (1990, winner of the Christopher Award), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize); When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland (1986, awarded Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Merit of Distinction Award); Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood (1984, awarded Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Merit of Distinction Award); and earlier books entitled Grass is Green in Suburbia: A Sociological Study of Adolescent Use of Illicit Drugs and Gambling in Sweden. Her books have been translated into Dutch, French, Hebrew, German, Italian, and French. The author of over seventy scholarly articles, Dr. Tec continues to be a frequent lecturer at international and national meetings and conferences. Over the years, her research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and others. She received an honorary doctorate from Seton Hall University in 2003.
In her memoir, Dr. Tec recalls how she was eight years old when the Germans and Russians invaded Poland in 1939. Her father, Roman Bawnik, had owned a chemical factory and had felt confident that life for him, his wife, and two daughters, would probably remain the same. Within days, the factory was seized, Mr. Bawnik became an employee rather than an owner, Mrs. Bawnik became a housekeeper for the wife of a high-ranking Nazi official, and the girls began being tutored because they could no longer go to public school. The nightmare that was to last for the next six years began.
Ms. Tec describes the disappearances of friends and relatives through Aktions, the beatings and murders on the streets, and the goal for the Germans of making Lublin "Judenfrei" (free of Jews). Since Nechama and her sister could "pass" as Aryan Christians using false papers, the family had to find a place for them to stay safely away from their hometown where people knew that they were Jewish. After a series of moves from one family to another, the two sisters, using the names Krysia and Danka, posed as the orphaned nieces of Marta and Tosiek Homar. In return for the Homar's protection, they had to feed the entire family and pay the rent. In exchange for being paid to "keep cats" (an expression used for Jews who tried to survive by passing), the Homars would also hide Nechama's parents. Her autobiographical sketch of her war year experiences, from age eight to fourteen, portrays the hardships but also the necessity for a child to mature and face life's challenges in order to keep herself and her family alive.