30 April 2008

The Bielski Brothers, Heroes of the Holocaust

The Bielskis were Jewish brothers from West Belarus who escaped from the Nazis and fought back to rescue fellow Jews during the Holocaust.

There have been two movies (and several books) about the Bielski Otriad (Russian for Partisan Group) so far.
The Bielski Brothers (1993)
The Bielski Brothers: Jerusalem in the Woods (2006)

The latest, Defiance is due out this December.

Here is some bacground on the real story of Defiance:
(Taken from: http://www.jewishpartisans.org)

Tuvia Bielski was born in Stankiewicze, in western Belorussia in 1906. When Germany invaded Russia in June of 1941, Tuvia and his younger brother Zus vowed never to be caught by the Germans. Tuvia’s extensive knowledge of the area saved his life, allowing him to move around frequently to avoid being captured by the Germans, who had a warrant for his arrest.In early 1942, Tuvia began hearing rumors about partisans, and decided that if he and his fellow Jews were to survive, he must acquire arms and organize all-Jewish resistance groups. Along with two of his brothers, Zus, and Asael, Tuvia (see below) began organizing Jews.

By May of 1942, Tuvia was in command of a small group, which by the end of the war had grown to 1200 people, and was known as the Bielski otriad.

Tuvia had focused on saving as many Jews as possible, and would accept any Jew into his group. Many came through the family of Konstantin Kozlovski, a non-Jew, who provided shelter for Jews escaping from the Novogrudok Ghetto and worked with the partisans to free hundreds of Jews from the ghetto.

The Bielski otriad carried out food raids, killed German collaborators, and sometimes joined with a Russian partisan group in anti-Nazi missions, such as burning the ripe wheat crop so the German soldiers couldn’t collect and eat the wheat. Additionally, the Bielski otriad would seek out Jews in the ghetto willing to risk escape to the forest, and send in guides to help them.

By the summer of 1943, Tuvia was the leader of 700 people. In the Nalibocka forest, Tuvia set up a functioning community, with everyone working to support the community in a variety of ways. There was a hospital, classrooms for the children, a soap factory, a Turkish bath, tailors, butchers, and even a group of musicians who played at festivals. Beyond meeting the needs of its own members, the Bielski otriad was able to provide services to other partisan groups in exchange for food and arms. By the summer of 1944, the group had grown to 1200. The group consisted mainly of the elderly, women, and children. Tuvia’s group was the largest of the Jewish partisan groups, and a high percentage of those he led survived, due to Tuvia’s strong and effective leadership, and his determination to save as many Jews as possible.
After the war, Tuvia moved first to Israel and later to the United States, where he died at age 81.

And another account: After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, killing or imprisoning Jews by the thousands, the Bielski brothers fled their home near Stankiewicze - in what is now Belarus - and hid out in the forest, determined to fight back against the brutal onslaught.

The brothers' encampment grew to include hundreds of armed fighters, families, children and elderly. No Jew was turned away and their partisan movement ultimately rescued some 1,200 Jews.

"To save a Jew is much more important than to kill Germans!" Tuvia Bielski, would tell his followers.
Most other partisan groups focused solely on hunting Nazis, killing collaborators and seeking revenge, said Christian Gerlach, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied the Holocaust extensively.

"In a way, that's what makes the Bielski unit different," Gerlach said.
Tuvia Bielski was in overall command of the encampment. Asael Bielski mostly guided the brothers' armed unit, Zus Bielski was head of reconnaissance while Aron largely played the role of messenger as he knew the forest best.

"There are thousands of people who are walking the Earth because of the decisions that him and his older brothers made," said Tuvia's son Michael Bielski.

The Bielski brothers managed to improvise a resistance network and some 360 Jews who found refuge with them took up arms against the Nazis. The brothers also managed to create a whole partisan community, complete with synagogues, bakeries and even an airstrip which the Soviets used to fly in supplies and fly out the wounded.

Asael was killed in 1944 fighting for the Red Army as it moved into Germany. The remaining brothers emigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s, settling down in the New York area and working in the taxi and trucking industries.

Aron Bielski, with his wife Henryka, is the sole surviving brother.

Zus Bielski's son Jay, served in the US Marines and volunteered in the IDF during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Zus's grandson, Matthew Bielski, who grew up in the US, came to Israel in 2005 to volunteer in the IDF as well.

This is the movie to see on Holocaust remembrance day!
Too bad we have to wait until December.

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SabaShimon said...

True Jewish warriors
Thanks for sharing that.

belsky said...

Don't forget that Jay's brother Zvi served in the IDF paratroopers during the First Lebanon War. Soon Jay's younger son will be in the IDF. Jay is actively trying to avoid his grandson Comeron Zeus from following the same path, however he did have a brit mela and has Bielski genes.

kefi said...

i saw this movie at an advance screening, and it is so wonderfully inspirational and moving. thank you for the backstory. make sure that you see the film-- it will change you.

ian said...

one of the best movies i have ever seen,sat on edge of sheet for the whole movie what a great and brave family, i was very glad to also see the advance screening and know the grandson very well.


geo said...

I have just seen the movie, and i could not able to sleep. My Jewish brothers the Bielskis.

Anonymous said...

For those interested in the Jewish resistance to the Nazis, I highly recommend "The Avengers" by Rich Cohen.

After watching the trailer, I'll have to see the movie.

DoubleTapper said...

PD- I'm glad you liked the trailer. Let me know what you think of the movie.

The Avengers is a story that is well know here in Israel. The story of Jews from the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania, Abba Kovner, the group's leader, and his two main lieutenants, Vitka Kempner and Ruzka Korczak. What made this group so different from most of the partisan bands, who inhabited the Lithuanian and Polish forests, is not just that most of its members were Jewish, but also that Vitka and Ruzka not only teenagers, but also women. Women who fought as valiantly as their male counterparts, engaging in acts of sabotage, and other actions, against the Nazis.

Abba Kovner is a well know figure here in Israel.

Wayne Taylor said...

A true HUMAN ispirational story akin to Schindler's List. One family I truelly would love to have known.

Unknown said...

I've read the book and seen the film - inspirational


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