Remembering Nechama Tec, the Survivor-Turned-Scholar

Born in Lublin in 1931, Nechama Tec survived the Holocaust by hiding with a Catholic family. She immigrated to Israel in 1949, married, and later moved with her husband to the U.S. Although she is best known among American Jews for her autobiography Dry Tears, which tells the story of her wartime experiences, she was also an accomplished sociologist who wrote several groundbreaking scholarly studies of the Shoah. She died on August 3 at the age of ninety-two. Richard Sandomir writes:

In Defiance: The Bielski Partisans (1993), [Tec] described the courageous actions of Tuvia Bielski, who commanded a resistance group that fought the Germans and, more important, saved some 1,200 Jews. The partisans entered ghettos under siege and brought Jews back to the Belarusian forest, where Mr. Bielski had built a community for them. Defiance 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.

When a friend suggested to the filmmaker Edward Zwick that “Defiance” would make a good movie, he was not immediately persuaded. “Not another movie about victims,” he recalled his response when he wrote in the New York Times about directing the film, released in 2008, which starred Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski and Liev Schreiber as his brother Zus.

“No, this is a story about Jewish heroes,” he said his friend told him.

After Defiance, Dr. Tec wrote When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland (1986). Her interviews with rescuers for that book yielded 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.

“Many were casually anti-Semitic, but that wasn’t their prime purpose in life,” said Christopher R. Browning, a Holocaust expert who is a professor emeritus of history at the University of North Carolina and who edited, with Dr. Tec and Richard S. Hollander, a collection of letters written by Mr. Hollander’s Polish Jewish family from 1939 to 1942. “Using her skills as a sociologist, she was able to portray a more complex spectrum of interactions than the simplistic ones that people who didn’t collect empirical data as she had.”

Read more at New York Times

More about: Holocaust, Holocaust resistance, Jewish history

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus