The Story of a Lost Childhood by vmarcelo

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									       The Story of a Lost Childhood: Teaching Dry Tears by Nechama Tec


       Dry Tears is the poignant account of Nechama Bawnik Tec’s family that found

refuge for three years with Polish Christians during the Holocaust. Nechama Tec, the

author, recounts the struggle of Jews who needed to pass as Christians among anti-

Semitic people in Nazi-occupied Poland. She asserts, “All my life revolved around

hiding; hiding thoughts, hiding feelings, hiding my activities, hiding information.

Sometimes I felt like a sort of fearful automaton, always on the alert, always dreading

that something fatal might be revealed” (Tec, 109). Before reading Dry Tears, students

should become familiar with a timeline of Holocaust events. Websites such as will provide the teacher and students with an

understanding of the plight of being a Jew in Europe during the Holocaust. The Museum

of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park in New York City has an excellent, easily understood

workbook, entitled Meeting Hate with Humanity, which can be ordered. Information

concerning the workbook as well as arranging a class trip to the museum can be

obtained from their website, Included in this study of “Hidden

Identities/Forced Masks” is a “scavenger hunt worksheet,” which asks the students,

after their docent-led tour, to revisit and answer questions concerning the exhibits at the

Museum of Jewish Heritage.

       This unit consists of a suggested vocabulary list, chapter-by-chapter guide

questions, essay topics, and project ideas to encourage both written and artistic

expressions. For easy reference, the page numbers from Dry Tears have been

included in the vocabulary and chapter sections. Information on the author can be found

at: and

Learning Goals

   •   Students will demonstrate knowledge of the Holocaust timeline by relating the

       events in the novel Dry Tears to the Holocaust chronology.

   •   Students will discuss the time period, recognize the role of prejudice in the

       creation of the Final Solution, and identify the plight of being a Jew in Europe

       during the Holocaust.

   •   Students will employ critical-reading skills, analytical skills, and writing skills in

       completing the various activities.

   •   Students will compare and contrast the roles that Jewish males and Jewish

       females assumed while in hiding; analyze the characters’ actions; identify the

       moral difficulties a Jew in Europe faced during the Holocaust; and examine

       student reactions to the feelings and actions of the main character, Nechama


   •   Students will achieve a synthesis of their knowledge of the Holocaust after

       reading Dry Tears by assembling, organizing, and developing their thoughts and

       creating written and artistic expressions to the suggested prompts.

   •   Students will evaluate the book by assessing the lessons the author hopes the

       reader will learn from her story.


Pre-discussion Activities                   1-3 days

Research/Workbook/Web                       1-2 days



       Web Research

Reading and Discussion                          5-8 days

       Chapter Guide Questions

       Journal Writing to Essay Questions

       Character Worksheet

       Active Discussion

Written/Artistic Expressions                    3 days

       In-Class Work

Written/Artistic Expressions                    2 days

       Class Presentations

Vocabulary List

melodious p. 2

unobtrusive p. 2

precarious p. 4

transgression p. 4

capricious p. 6

kosher p. 7

sadism p. 17

Judenrat p.18

counterfeit p. 36

denouncement p.40

anti-semite p. 46

assimilate p. 47

meticulous p. 59

noncompliance p. 64

denounce p. 75

acquiesce p. 82

diabolical p. 164

retaliatory p. 195

aghast p. 197

brood p. 198

inevitable p. 199

partisan p. 225

ideologies p. 227

incompatible p. 227

communist p. 228

fascist p. 228

Character Analysis Worksheet Impressions

       Write down behavior or key character traits that point out the similarities and

differences between Nechama Tec in Chapters 1 through 5, when she was known as

Pelagia Pawlowska, and the author as she appears in Chapters 6 through 8, when her

identity changed to Krysia Bloch.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 1: “The Approaching Shadow”

•   How old was Nechama Tec when her school closed? (1)

•   Describe Hela Trachtenberg. (1,2)

•   What was so special about Hela? (2) What was her nickname? (3)

•   What was Nechama’s attitude concerning schooling? (3)

•   Describe Nechama’s sister’s first serious boyfriend. (5)

•   What jobs did Nechama’s parents hold? How did her mother’s job give Nechama

    useful information? (6,7)

•   Explain the quote by Nechama’s mother that begins, “There is no God…” (7)

•   Nechama’s father states, “Ignorance is dangerous.” What did he mean? (8)

•   Nechama’s parents believed that they would survive. What were they telling their

    daughters when they kept reminding them, “ If you are going to survive, you must

    use your wits. You must know what it is all about. You must grow up fast”? (8)

•   Describe the family’s first hiding place. (11-12)

•   Where was Czuczka transported? (12)

•   What happened to Mrs. Tec’s brother, Josef?

•   Why did Mr. Tec reveal Uncle Josef’s hiding place to the Gestapo officers? (15)

•   What happened to Josef? (16)

•   Describe the new ghetto, Majdan Tatarski. (17)

•   What was the Judenrat? (18)

•   How was Mrs. Tec affected when she saw her sister, Zelda, being transported in

    a truck? What happened to Zelda? (19/20)

•   What did Nechama do during the day while her parents worked? (20)

•   Why did Nechama go to live with Czuczka in Majdan Tatarski? (21/22)

  •   Who were the Jewish collaborators? (24)

  •   How did Nechama feel in the presence of Czuczka and Stach? (26)

  •   Why did Nechama have to escape from Majdan Tatarski? (27/28)

  •   Describe the relationship between Mr. Tec and the German commissioner. (32)

  •   What was Bolek’s mission? (34)

  •   Why did Nechama’s parents have to become almost invisible while living with a

      Polish family? (35)

  •   What does Judenrein mean? (37)

  •   Describe the preparations and precautions Nechama’s family took to ensure their

      arriving safely at their next hiding place. (37)

  •   Who was Mr. Pys? (38)

  •   What happened to Czuczka? (39)

  •   What was Nechama’s new name? (40)

  •   What happened to Josef? (41)

  •   Why did Nechama’s parents change their minds and take her with them? (42)

Chapter Two: “My World Before”

  •   Describe five facts about Mr. Tec’s background. (45/46)

  •   What is an “instinctive” Jew? (46)

  •   Describe Nechama’s feelings as she witnessed the anti-Semitic attacks. (46)

  •   Why were Mr. and Mrs. Tec unable to become fully assimilated? (47)

  •   Nechama was the author’s Hebrew name. What was the Polish name her

      parents had given her? (48)

  •   How did Mr. and Mrs. Tec feel about education?

  •   Describe Nechama’s grandparents. (53/54)

  •   Describe Mr. Tec’s attitude about generosity. (57)

  •   How did life change in Lublin once the Germans took over? (59/60)

  •   Why did Mrs. Tec get beaten? (60/61)

  •   List three new rules the Jews had to follow. (64)

Chapter Three: “The Search Begins”

  •   Why did Nechama have to have “happy eyes”? (68)

  •   Describe Bolek’s household. (70)

  •   What other new information did Nechama and her sister have to learn? (71)

  •   Describe the Polish collaborators. (72)

  •   Describe Jan and Magda. (73)

  •   What happened to Mr. Tec’s former partner, Mr. Lerner? (75)

  •   Describe Otwock, Nechama’s new hiding place. (79)

  •   Describe Marta, Jurek, Ania and Tosiek. (80/81)

  •   Describe Stefan Rubin. (83)

  •   What did Stanislaw use to gratify his need for narcotics? (84)

  •   Why did Nechama and her sister get lice? (87)

  •   What protected Mr. Tec from getting caught? (89)

  •   Why did Nechama’s sister have to leave Otwock? (90)

  •   Why did Nechama want to memorize her father’s features? (92)

Chapter Four: “Left Alone”

  •   What void was Nechama trying to fill by eating so much? (95)

  •   How did Marta know about the missing piece of bread? (96)

   •   What did Nechama do to escape into a fantasy world? (98)

   •   Describe Stefan’s brother Pawel. (100-1)

   •   What was Nechama’s response to the older woman? (104-5)

   •   What did Stanislaw tell Nechama about Osiek’s mother? (107)

   •   Why did Nechama listen for train whistles? (109)

   •   Why did Nechama leave some of her clothes at Marta and Tosiek’s house? (111)

Chapter Five: “Reunion”

   •   Where did Nechama’s sister work? (114)

   •   Describe Nechama’s new home in Kielce. (116/117)

   •   Why did Nechama’s mother have an easier time with being confined than

       Nechama’s father? (119)

   •   How did Nechama try to make it easier for her father? (120)

   •   How did Stefa make her dress appear new? (121)

   •   How did the Homars feel about Jews? (121)

   •   Who were “cats”? (122)

   •   What did Nechama’s family give as payment for the Homars’ protection? (123)

   •   What method of bread buttering did Mr. Tec invent? (125)

   •   Describe Stefa and Helena. (126-28)

   •   What was Ziutka like? (132)

   •   What happened to Nechama when she went to purchase oil? (138-39)

Chapter 6: “A Pattern of Life”

   •   Why couldn’t Nechama react to the anti-Semitic remarks of the other children?


  •   What was Janka’s reaction when Nechama questioned her about her way of

      thinking about the Jews? (144)

  •   Describe the transformation that took place in Nechama. (145)

  •   How did Nechama feel about being Krysia Bloch? (145)

  •   What did Nechama refuse to do while working in the field? (147)

  •   How did Nechama react when the old man paid her only half her wages? (147)

  •   What was the black-market? (148)

  •   What punishments did the Germans give when they caught the black marketers?


  •   What roles did Nechama and Stefa take when they went shopping? (149-50)

  •   How did the Germans react in 1945 when the Nazis began losing ground? (150)

  •   What worries troubled Nechama’s family? (150)

  •   What did Nechama’s parents agree to help Tadek with? (151)

  •   Where did Mr. and Mrs. Tec build their hiding place in their new dwelling? (153-


  •   Why did Nechama and Helene’s families adopt Czarus? (154-55)

  •   What were the advantages of Nechama’s sister’s job? (157)

  •   What was looked upon as an act of patriotism? (157)

  •   What did the two sisters talk about as they walked home from the club? (159)

  •   What almost gave away Mr. and Mrs. Tec’s hiding place? (162)

  •   Why did the German soldier smile but leave? (162)

  •   What happened to Bolek? (163)

Chapter Seven: “Without Money”

  •   What black-market venture did Nechama get involved with? (166)

  •   Why was Nechama happy to pretend she was Stefa’s niece? (169)

  •   What useful tricks did Nechama learn in order to sell more rolls? (173)

  •   What happened after the raid? (174)

  •   What preparations were made for Christmas? (176)

  •   How did Nechama feel during the Christmas midnight mass? (177)

  •   Why did Nechama get nervous when a customer said, “These rolls are delicious.

      They taste like Jewish challah”? (179)

  •   How did Nechama expand her business? (181)

  •   What did Nechama mean when she said, “ Our business gave us more than one

      kind of return”? (184)

  •   How did Helena treat Ziutka? (186)

  •   What problems did Helena’s death cause? (186)

  •   How were the problems solved? (187)

  •   What happened to Stefa during the Nazi interrogation? (192)

Chapter Eight: “And Now?”

  •   What were the danger signs of a retaliatory measure? (195)

  •   How did Nechama feel about death? (197)

  •   How did Nechama feel about lying about her identity? (197)

  •   Why did Mr. and Mrs. Tec make Nechama hide with the other Polish children

      during a raid? (198)

  •   How did Mr. Tec convince Ziutka that she should not turn the family in to the

      Germans? (202)

  •   What did Tadek do to Waldek on Christmas Eve? (205)

  •   How did Tadek respond to his wife and daughter moving away? (206)

  •   What did Nechama mean when she said of the Germans, “More and more their

      behavior was like that of a wounded wild beast, which strikes out before it dies

      with all its fury and fading strength”? (207)

  •   What was different about the arrested German soldier’s demeanor? (211)

  •   What was the Russian soldier looking for when he came to Nechama’s

      apartment? (212)

  •   Why did the Homars want the Tecs to leave Kielce as Poles? (214)

  •   What did the Tecs discover when they pulled up to their own home? (216)


  •   What happened to the German commissioner who had been the head of the

      Tecs factory? (219)

  •   Who now owned the factory? (220)

  •   How did Nechama feel about their old belongings now becoming a part of Jan

      and Genia’s lives? (220-21)

  •   Explain the quote on page 241, which begins, “My initial satisfaction…”

  •   What promise did Nechama make to herself as she entered the American Zone

      in Berlin? (241)

  •   What was the purpose of the Jewish center? (221-22)

  •   How many Jews returned to Lublin after the war? How many families returned

      intact? What was the Jewish population in Lublin before the war? In the end,

      what was the estimated figure for Jewish survivors in Lublin? (223)

  •   Who was Mietek? (225)

  •   Why didn’t the Jews probe into one another’s wartime past? (225)

  •   What did Mr. and Mrs. Tec do concerning their daughters’ education? (227)

  •   How did the Poles feel about the Russians and Communism? (227-28)

  •   What did the Russians do in order to take control of Poland? (229)

  •   What did the Russian government do to the Polish underground, such as the

      Home Army (A.K.)? (230)

  •   How did Mr. Pys greet Mr. Tec? What were his parting words when control of the

      factory was returned to Mr. Tec? (231)

  •   What changes did Mr. Tec make at his factory? (232)

  •   Why did Stefa and Basia come to visit the Tecs? (234)

  •   Why wasn’t the conversation between the Tecs and the Homar’s free and

      relaxed? (235)

  •   Why was Mr. Tec going to be assassinated? What had he done? (236-37)

  •   Because of a threat on their lives, where did Nechama and her sister go? (238)

Essay Ideas

  •   Using examples from the memoir, explain this statement: “Guile could be the

      difference between life and death.”

  •   Why did the author title her novel, Dry Tears?

  •   In an ethical and moral world, you wouldn’t encourage immoral and unethical

      deeds in order to survive. Parents teach their children to be honest. In Dry

      Tears, the characters had to be dishonest in order to survive. Explain situations

    in which the characters were dishonest in order to survive. How do you feel about

    this type of behavior?

•   How do you identify yourself in terms of gender, religion, ethnicity, character,


•   If someone rejects his or her Jewish religion, does that person stop being a Jew?

•   On page eight, Nechama’s father states; “Ignorance is dangerous.” What did he

    mean by this statement?

•   How did Nechama Tec’s family’s wealth aid their endeavors to hide?

•   Nechama and her sister were more able to move about freely because they

    didn’t look Jewish. What did the author mean when she stated that Mrs. Tec

    looked Jewish?

•   Why do women instigate so many of the happenings in Dry Tears?

•   Explain Tec’s statement on page 109: “All my life revolved around hiding; hiding

    thoughts, hiding feelings, hiding my activities, hiding information. Sometimes I felt

    like a sort of fearful automaton, always on the alert, always dreading that

    something fatal might be revealed.”

•   On page 175, Mr. Tec states: “Fear is a luxury we cannot afford. We must be

    cautious, but we must not be fearful.” Why couldn’t the family be fearful?

•   Why was life in hiding so much harder for Mr. Tec than for Mrs. Tec? What did

    the bread-making business give Nechama’s family besides income?

•   Agree or disagree: The female characters in Dry Tears are more resourceful,

    resilient, and reliable than the male characters. Support your opinion with

    situations from the memoir.

   •   If you were told that you had to go into hiding, what five items would you pack in

       your suitcase? Why would you take these particular items?


Use the NJ Holistic Scoring Rubric for the essay assessment:

Written and Artistic Expression Project Ideas

Written Expression

   •   Write five journal entries of a character from the novel.

   •   Write a letter to the author of the novel.

   •   Create the script for a talk show, using characters from the novel as your guests.

   •   Find a particularly effective description or action scene that could easily become

       a poem. Rewrite the prose to become a poem.

   •   Create a promotional campaign for the novel, which could include a newspaper

       layout, television commercial, or radio ad.

   •   Compare the lifestyles of the characters of the book to those people of the

       present day. Present the information in a panel format.

   •   Create the script for a newscast of the novel’s time period.

   •   Select a scene from the novel and have members of a group act it out. Have a

       reporter interrupt the action and proceed to interview each character for an on-

       the-scene “mini-cam” report.

   •   Write the script for a mock trial that will permit one of the characters to defend

       what he or she has done.

   •   Design and write the articles for the front page of a newspaper of the time period.

   •   Write a human-interest story on one of the characters from the novel.

   •   Write an editorial to the newspaper on some controversial issue raised in the


   •   Write a short paper explaining why you would or would not like to change places

       with one of the characters in the novel.

   •   Write a personal letter to one of the characters in the novel you admire or


   •   Pretend you are a foreign spy sent to report on the activities of Nechama Tec.

   •   Compile your findings into a secret file regarding Nechama. Include a


   •   Create a mask that contains symbolic representations of Nechama’s various

       identities. In an essay, explain what your symbols mean in relation to Nechama’s


Artistic Expression

   •   Create an editorial cartoon in relation to the novel.

   •   Create a batik of a scene from the novel.

   •   Design a postcard appropriate to the novel. On one side, draw, paint, or

       reproduce a picture or photo. On the other side, compose a message to

       someone with whom Nechama might have communicated. Include a drawing of

       the postmark.

   •   Create a memory book of a character from Dry Tears.

   •   Create a PowerPoint presentation of the novel. Include: setting, characters,

       external and internal conflicts, climax, denouement, resolution, flashback,

       foreshadowing, and theme.

   •   Create a puppet show depicting a chapter of the memoir.

   •   Fashion a mobile from items related to the book.

   •   Make a “roll movie” of the events of the book: Put a series of pictures in

       sequence on a long strip of paper. Attach ends to rollers and place in a

       cardboard box. Print dialogue to accompany the frame.

   •   Recreate a scene from the novel by making a scale model.

   •   Dress up as a character from the novel and retell the story from your perspective.

   •   Design and print your own T-shirt book report. Create a new design for the book

       and write a summary, which will be silk-screened, magic markered, or painted

       onto a T-shirt.

   •   Design and create costumes for dolls of the clothing that the main characters

       would have worn.

   •   Complete scale drawings of scenes from the book.

   •   Design and create squares for a quilt that represents the book.

   •   Convert the events of the story into a ballad or song.

   •   Create an abstract painting that represents your feelings after reading the book.

       In a brief essay or poem, explain your abstract.

Individual Assessment

Student: _________________

Written Expression


1         1.5   2         2.5         3          3.5         4


1         1.5   2         2.5         3          3.5         4

Written Expression Total: ___________

Grade: __________

Artistic Expression

Creativity and use of symbolism

1       1.5           2         2.5          3         3.5       4

Organization of ideas

1       1.5           2         2.5          3         3.5       4

Artistic Expression Total: _______________

Grade: _____________


7.5-8: A; 6.5-7: B; 6: C; 5-5.5: D; 4.5 & Below: F


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