Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Solidarity in the Forest – The Bielski Brothers

Made famous by Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell in Edward Zwick's movie Defiance, the Bielski brothers saved some 1200 Jews in the forests of Belarus during the Holocaust.  

Naliboki, Poland, Armed partisans from the Bielski unit, 1943
 (Yad Vashem Photo Archive)
 This true and remarkable story is featured in the International School for Holocaust Studies' e-newsletter.   The article looks at the various challenges and dilemmas faced by Tuvia, Asael, Zusya and Aharon  Bielski, who, as Tuvia declared, believed, “Don’t rush to fight and die. So few of us are left, we need to save lives. It is more important to save Jews than to kill Germans."   

After their parents and other relatives were murdered in a massacre of around 5,000 Jews on December 8, 1941, the Bielski brothers fled to the Belarusian forest and set up a partisan unit with Tuvia Bielski as the commander. However, unlike other partisan groups, fighting the enemy was not their highest goal. Their primary objective was to rescue Jews and to offer them shelter and protection in the forest. The brothers did not only admit those who were able to fight, but every Jewish woman or man, no matter whether the person was young or old, healthy or sick, a fighter or a noncombatant. Tuvia Bielski explained that he “… would rather save one old Jewish woman, than kill ten German soldiers.”  

1 comment:

  1. My father was from the town of Nowogródek, right near their village. He was a little older than the brothers I his early 30's when the war broke out and living in Belgium so not part of their activities. As a young girl in the 60's, I remember many of the survivors would occasionally meet in NYC for meetings/socializng etc. Either at one of these meetings or in our home, a movie of the town of Nowogródek was shown that my grandfather,a photographer made...I'm guessing aroun 1920? As the film played, very calmly someone would say,"oh, there's so and so...killed by shots from the nazi's", and "there's the baker, died in the camps", and on and on in very calm voices. It was only about 20 years since the war and I assume they were still in quite a state of shock. And yet in contrast, they were all acting very happy, smiling, the women very well dressed and with lots of make-up. I remember my mother, who was not from there, told me "they were all boyfriends and girlfriends in the woods." I was probably 14 when I first met them so these are the memories of a young girl almost 50 years ago. Marlene Simmons (Szymonovich) Skulnik