In the Lion's Den
The Life of Oswald Rufeisen
By Nechama Tec
Oxford University Press, USA, Paperback, 9780195383478, 279pp.
Publication Date: November 2008
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Only seventeen years old when WWII began, Rufeisen joined the exodus of Poles who fled the approaching German army. Bright and talented, Rufeisen used his ability to speak fluent German to pass as half German and half Polish in Mir, where he came to serve the German commander 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 "Aktionen" and to sabotage Nazi plans. Most notably, he thwarted the annihilation of the Mir ghetto by arming hundreds of Jews and organizing their escape, and saved an entire Belorussian village from destruction. Eventually discovered and 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, similar to the Bielski unit of Tec's Defiance.
After the war, Father Daniel (as he came to be 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.
In the Lion's Den, from author Nechama Tec of Defiance and several other astonishing accounts of Jewish survival and rescue during the Holocaust, 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.