Few lives shed more light on the complex relationship between Jews and Christians during and after the Holocaust--or provide a more moving portrait of courage--than Oswald Rufeisen's. A Jew passing as a Christian in occupied Poland, Rufeisen worked as translator for the German police--the very people who rounded up and murdered the Jews--and repeatedly risked his life to save hundreds from the Nazis. In this gripping biography, Nechama Tec, a widely acclaimed writer on the Holocaust, recounts Rufeisen's remarkable story.
A youth of seventeen when World War II began, Rufeisen joined the exodus of Poles who fled the approaching German army. Tec vividly describes how Rufeisen used his ability to speak fluent German to pass as half German and half Polish in Mir, where he came to serve as translator and personal secretary to the German in charge of the gendarmerie. As he carried out his duties--reading death sentences to prisoners, swearing in new police officers before a portrait of Hitler--he earned the trust and affection of the German commander, yet lived in constant fear of discovery. He used his position to pass secret information to Jews and Christians about impending "aktions" and to sabatoge Nazi plans. Most notably, he thwarted the annihilation of the Mir ghetto by arming hundreds of doomed Jews and organizing their escape, and saved an entire Belorussian village from destruction. Denounced, Rufeisen escaped and found shelter in a convent, where he converted to Catholicism. Though a pacifist, he spent the rest of the war fighting in a Russian partisan unit.
After the war, Father Daniel (as he is now known) became a priest and a Carmelite monk. Identifying himself as a Christian Jew and an ardent Zionist, he moved to Israel, where he challenged the Law of Return in a case that reached the High Court and attracted international attention. Today he continues to devote himself to bridging the gap between Christians and Jews. In the Lion's Den offers a stirring portrait of a Jewish rescuer during the Holocaust and its aftermath, illuminating the intricate connections between good and evil, cruelty and compassion, and Judaism and Christianity.
Rufeisen's story is extraordinary, especially as recreated by Tec ( Dry Tears ). A Polish Jew imprisoned by the Nazis at age 18, he escaped and passed as a Catholic. Wearing a Nazi uniform as assistant to the German police chief in the Russian town of Mir, he aided Jews and non-Jews in evading the captors. He warned Mir's ghetto of its impending liquidation, gave its residents arms and helped 300 Jews escape. His deception discovered, Rufeisen fled to a convent and converted to Christianity; in 1943 he joined a Russian partisan brigade. After the war, he became a Carmelite monk, later a secular priest. Emigrating to Israel in 1962, Rufeisen, as Father Daniel, now leads the Jewish Christian Church. (Feb.)
Based upon interviews and documents, Tec recounts an unusual tale of heroism and survival during World War II and pursues themes of earlier works ( Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood; When Light Pierced the Darkness, LJ 1/86). Rufiesen, a Polish Jew, posed as a Christian and became a gendarme and translator for the Germans in order to escape the Holocaust. Through his position he saved many Jews and partisans from death. When forced to flee and take refuge in a convent, he became a Catholic and later a priest and monk. Following the war he served his church in Israel, where he sued unsuccessfully for recognition as a Jew by nationality, not religion. Tec makes Rufiesen's life into a testament that the individual may not only endure but prove his moral strength when confronted with evil. Recommended for Holocaust, World War II, and area collections.-- Rena Fowler, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
Nechama Tec is Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, Stamford. She is the author of When Light Pierced the Darkness, Dry Tears, and other writings which explore the rare aspects of human experience during the Holocaust.