ENGL 2020: Holocaust Survivor Literature:essay:compose a study of 1000 words or more on Nechama Tec’s Dry Tears.
- Do not summarize the book. Discuss only those aspects/moments from the book that are needed to addresspoints you are making.
- Organize purposefully, with one point per paragraph and clear transitions at the start of each new paragraph.
- Cite your source properly (MLA style) for every quotation or paraphrased detail (3 citations required, minimum)
- Edit carefully for clear, effective content and vivid language.
- Proofread well for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Submit only your final, best draft.
The most common definition of “resistance” is forceful challenge to power or overthrow of oppressors. If you research resistance to the Holocaust, as Nechama Tec herself did in her 2013 book Resistance: Jews and Christians Who Defied the Nazi Terror, you will find amazing examples of individuals and groups who gave their all to rebellion and attacks upon the Third Reich.
Direct challenge, however, is only one kind of resistance, one definition for a complex concept. Resistance can also be any effort to lessen or limit an oppressor’s power. Those who helped Jews to escape or hide engaged in powerful resistance to the Nazi order, for example. And any time Jews survived, by whatever means, they resisted Hitler’s Final Solution, which demanded the death of all Jews. Such survival depended on many small decisions and acts, which we see in detail in Dry Tears.
With this in mind, compose an essay on acts of resistance by the Bawniks in Dry Tears. You need not cover every act or effort, and you don’t want to summarize the book. Select a group that holds together to create a strong paper. You might write about what you see as the most important acts of resistance or instead on the most easily overlooked small acts. You might write about only the acts that Nechama herself participated in or just what her father did to save the family. The choice is yours, but the ultimate goal with any approach is the illustration of how the book you read shows resistance to be much more than open or armed rebellion.
- If you had difficulty writing essays in 1010/1020, you will likely have difficulty writing for this course. Begin work with the Writing Center (online or in person) immediately to ensure success in this course. Unlike ENGL 1010/1020, you will not submit multiple drafts of the essay to your professor or classmates for feedback before the final version is due.
- You may send an introduction or outline for your essay in the body of an email to your professor for feedback before you compose the full essay. Beyond this, attain feedback as needed from the Writing Center, a tutor, or others you know whose writing skills you respect. All writing in the end must be your own, but do not submit a rough draft and expect to succeed.
Below is a sample “A” essay, written on aa different topic. Review the essay to note elements of successful work for this assignment, including introduction, thesis, purposeful structure, transitions, body paragraphs, use of quotations, citations, conclusion, language and phrasing, grammar and punctuation, proofreading, format, Works Cited list, etc.
Topic: Antisemitism in Dry Tears
Sticks and Stepping Stones
During WWII and the Holocaust “anti-Semitism” became a word all too well known by the Jews. In Dry Tears, we see multiple encounters in which young Nechama hears harsh judgements of Jews by non-Nazis. In the memoir, Nechama and the whole Bawnik family must live in hiding in order to avoid being shipped off to a concentration camp or murdered in the street. They move repeatedly to ensure their safety, and, in every house along the way, they must form relationships with the Polish Christians who shelter them – for a price. Unsurprisingly, many of those they live with are anti-Semitic. They loathe the Jews, and generally do not explain their reasoning. However, this anti-Semitism is not unleashed on the Bawniks, largely because the individuals consider Nechama and her family exceptions to the rule – a rule that seems based on hateful fantasies rather than lived experience. Through exploration of the anti-Semitic perspectives Nechama hears, the author helps us to see the irrationality of anti-Semitism and to learn from it.
Nechama’s young life is torn apart when the Nazis invade Poland. The family faces the political and economic impact of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws, but they are also forced to experience the overt expression of hatred toward the Jews when they go into hiding with Polish non-Jews. Some of these expressions, moreover, come from people Nechama comes to like, or even love. One example such an individual is Stanislaw. This upper-class man whose family has fallen on hard times is the father of Marta, the harsh, unkempt woman who takes in the Bawnik family after they leave the abusive couple Jan and Magda. In addition to liking Martha’s husband, Tosiek, Nechama finds pleasure and momentary escape in listening to the many stories the older man Stanislaw tells when he visits. He likes Nechama, too, and makes clear that he is able to like her because she is not what he imagines Jews to be. “Look at yourself!” he says. “You cannot be Jewish!” (Tec 106). Here, Stanislaw is making plain his hatred for Jews by his need to separate Nechama from her Jewishness. If Nechama is likeable, she cannot therefore be Jewish.
Stanislaw, of course, is not the only one who has an anti-Semitic perspective. Even more overt about their hatred for Jews is the Homar family, at whose home in Kielce Nechama reunites with her family after being apart. While they are kind and welcoming, they are also anti-Semitic, “and totally uninhibited about being so” (121). This hurts Nechama, reinforcing what she already experienced in her friendship with Stanislaw. The Homars, too, try to convince themselves that their fondness for Nechama need not keep them from their anti-Semitic views. They say, “You know that you are not a real Jew. You are not really Jewish” (121).
The pain and confusion such perspectives cause Nechama bring her to question her father on the subject. How can she be Jewish yet not Jewish to Stanislaw and the Homars? How can they hate Jews but care for and about her? Nechama’s father explains: “[T]he ‘real’ Jew is not real at all” (121). In these few words, he reflects that anti-Semitism is not about real encounters or knowledge. Most often, it is based on stereotypes and myths, untruths that have made the Jews scapegoats for centuries. Nechama must struggle to understand that she is not a “real” Jew because people like Stanislaw and the Homars do not know Jews or Jewishness. Instead, they put others down to raise themselves up or to justify injustice that they participate in.
This knowledge accompanies Nechama into her strongest bond with someone outside the family: Helena. Helena is the grandmother of the Homar family, the only one who refuses to take money from the Bawniks. Instead, she is a professional beggar and proud of it. She takes to Nechama quickly and the two go on walks together. She wants to help the young girl to stay well and “away from doctors” (129). And yet, Helena is an anti-Semite, and knows Nechama is Jewish. “I would not harm a Jew,” she states, “but I see no point in going out of my way to help one” (129). Is she not going out of her way to “help” Nechama? She does not seem to see the contradiction. “[I]t is outright stupid to risk Christian blood for Jewish blood,” she concludes. Again, this is just what the Homar family is doing – albeit with ample bribery.
A final example of the complexity of anti-Semitism in Dry Tears comes up when Nechama is for a time able to play with other children. This gives her the opportunity to feel like a normal child despite Nazi rule, posing as a Christian. She suffers from not being able to tell others the truth, but she delights in the opportunity to be outdoors and active. Even here, however, anti-Semitism is all around her. She befriends a girl named Janka, but as in her friendships with elderly Poles Stanislaw and Helena, her friendship with a girl her age is fraught with contradiction. Janka actually thinks Nechama is Christian, so she does not comment on her Jewishness. However, she does tell a terrible story about how Jews capture and murder Christian children (143). And she truly seems to believe it. Nechama wants to impress the truth upon Janka, but she must be careful not to let the girl know her secret. Even more than the pain it causes her to hear others tell her she isn’t “really” Jewish, Janka’s story brings the terrible knowledge that Nechama cannot even enjoy a superficial friendship with someone her age in these circumstances.
Nechama grows up quickly during the Holocaust years, losing her innocence and her optimism – at least for a time. One of the main causes for this loss is her experience of anti-Semitism, coming from the mouths and minds of those she would like to consider friends. Whether she hears it from the elderly or the young, the evil of hatred and scapegoating is imprinted on Nechama in her tale of hiding and survival. We must be grateful that as an adult Tec wrote this book and shared the details that can help us, as readers, to challenge the stereotypes and myths with which we may judge others. By learning from the traumatic lessons taught unintentionally to a little girl, we find stepping stones to build a more just and peaceful future.
Tec, Nechama. Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood. NY: Oxford UP, 1982. Print.
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