A film starring Daniel Craig about a Jewish underground resistance movement that took on the Nazis has prompted a storm of protest in Poland. Defiance, directed by Edward Zwick, which recently opened in Poland under the title Opor resistance , has been booed at cinemas across the country and banned from others because of a local perception that it is a rewriting of history and anti-Polish. Opponents say in its telling of the true story of the four Bielski brothers who fled the Nazis and set up a kibbutz-style secret village with hundreds of followers in a forest in what was then part of Poland, the filmmakers have, in true Hollywood style, simplified the facts, mythologised the group and omitted to address accusations that they ill-treated Polish locals and the underground home army. It is an indisputable fact that the Bielskis' unit waged a campaign of armed resistance against the Nazis as well as providing a refuge for the old, weak and sick which saved 1, Jews from the Holocaust.
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Despite great obstacles, Jews throughout occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans and their Axis partners. They faced overwhelming odds and desperate scenarios, including lack of weapons and training, operating in hostile zones, parting from family members, and facing an ever-present Nazi terror.
Yet thousands resisted by joining or forming partisan units. While its members did fight against the Germans and their collaborators, the Bielski group leaders emphasized providing a safe haven for Jews, particularly women, children, and elderly persons who managed to flee into the forests.
Under the protection of the Bielski group, more than 1, Jews survived the war, one of the most successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, , the Germans occupied Western Belorussia before Western Belorussia had been a part of Poland; after Germany invaded Poland in it was annexed to the Soviet Union by previous agreement with Germany. There, German authorities killed tens of thousands of Jews in Nowogrodek Novogrudok District including the cities of Lida and Nowogrodek between July and the end of spring They confined those they did not shoot to ghettos throughout the District.
When German SS and police units liquidated these ghettos in , they killed most of the remaining inhabitants. After the Germans killed their parents and two brothers in the Nowogrodek ghetto in December , three surviving brothers of the Bielski family— Tuvia — , Asael — , and Zus — —established a partisan group.
Initially, the Bielski brothers attempted only to save their own lives and those of their family members. The family members chose former Zionist activist Tuvia Bielski, a Polish Army veteran and a charismatic leader, to command the group.
His brother Asael became his deputy, while Zus was placed in charge of reconnaissance. A fourth and much younger brother, Aharon was part of the group as well. The Bielskis had been a Jewish farming family in the nearby village of Stankiewicze, and the brothers knew the region well. Their familiarity with its geography, customs, and people helped them elude the German authorities and their Belorussian auxiliaries. With the help of non-Jewish Belorussian friends, they were able to acquire guns.
The Bielski partisans later supplemented these arms with captured German weapons, Soviet weapons, and equipment supplied by Soviet partisans. Tuvia Bielski saw his principal mission as saving the lives of his fellow Jews. Bielski frequently sent guides into the ghettos to escort people to the forest. In late , a special mission saved over a hundred Jews from the Iwie ghetto just as the Germans planned to liquidate it.
Bielski scouts constantly searched the roads for Jewish escapees in need of protection. Many Jews hiding in the forests in smaller family groups joined the Bielski group. Jewish partisans serving in Soviet partisan organizations also fell in with the Bielskis in an attempt to escape antisemitism in their units. The stream of Jewish survivors increased the size of the Bielski group to more than people by the end of Until the summer of , the group led a nomadic existence in the forest.
In August , however, the Germans began a massive manhunt directed against Russian, Polish, and Jewish partisans in the region. They deployed more than 20, military personnel and SS and police officials. The Bielski group, which had increased to approximately Jews, was especially vulnerable to discovery by the German patrols.
The group feared in part that the local peasants from whom they obtained food might betray them. As a result, the Bielski group moved in December to what became a permanent base in the Naliboki Forest, a swampy, scarcely accessible region on the right bank of the Niemen River, east of Lida and northeast of Nowogrodek.
It was in this primitive and unlikely setting that the Bielski group created a community. Despite some opposition from within the group, Tuvia Bielski never wavered in his determination to accept and protect all Jewish refugees, regardless of age or gender. The group organized the skilled workers among the Jewish refugees into workshops, which employed at least people, including cobblers, tailors, carpenters, leather workers, and blacksmiths.
In addition, the group established a mill, a bakery, and a laundry. Work groups supplied the camp with food and cleared the land where possible for the cultivation of wheat and barley.
The Naliboki Forest was under the administration of Soviet partisans, wherever the Germans were not present. He recognized the vital role of the camp as a maintenance base for Soviet partisans. In , the camp leaders received weapons from Soviet partisan headquarters. Bielski refused Soviet requests to provide an operations unit from among the approximately men in his group who engaged in armed operations.
He did not wish to abandon the married men, the women, and the children, for he knew that they could not survive without the armed protection of the armed men in his group. This concern was another reason for him in to draw his entire group deeper into the most inaccessible regions of the forest.
At the same time that it saved lives and protected the noncombatants in the camp, the Bielski group carried out several operational missions. It attacked the Belorussian auxiliary police officials, as well as local farmers suspected of killing Jews.
The group disabled German trains, blew up rail beds, destroyed bridges, and facilitated escapes from Jewish ghettos. The Bielski fighters often joined with Soviet partisans in operations against German guards and facilities, killing many Germans and Belorussian collaborators.
On June 22, , Soviet troops initiated a massive offensive in Eastern Belorussia. At the time of liberation, the Bielski group had reached its peak of 1, people. More than 70 percent were women, elderly persons, and children, who otherwise would have perished under the German occupation.
An estimated 50 members of the Bielski group were killed, an unusually low casualty rate in comparison not only with other partisan detachments but also with Jewish groups in the region. They both fought in the Israeli armed forces during the war that established the Israeli state. They subsequently immigrated to the United States. Asael was drafted into the Soviet Army. He died on the front in East Prussia in February Duffy, Peter. New York: HarperCollins, c Glass, James M.
Radin, Ruth Yaffe. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, We would like to thank The Crown and Goodman Family and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors. You are searching in English. Tags Find topics of interest and explore encyclopedia content related to those topics. Browse A-Z Find articles, photos, maps, films, and more listed alphabetically.
For Teachers Recommended resources and topics if you have limited time to teach about the Holocaust. About This Site. Glossary : Full Glossary. The Bielski Partisans Despite great obstacles, Jews throughout occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans and their Axis partners. Key Facts. More information about this image. Tuvia, Asael, and Zus Bielski Establish a Partisan Group After the Germans killed their parents and two brothers in the Nowogrodek ghetto in December , three surviving brothers of the Bielski family— Tuvia — , Asael — , and Zus — —established a partisan group.
Article Jewish Resistance. Glossary Terms. Critical Thinking Questions What obstacles and limitations did Jews face when considering resistance? What resources and abilities might resistors need to fight back against a regime? Consider how many of these needs were often problematic for Jews during the Holocaust. Investigate other partisan groups that fought the Nazis. Compare and contrast their goals, organization, and success with the Bielski partisans.
Further Reading Duffy, Peter. Tec, Nechama. Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. New York: Oxford University Press, Thank you for supporting our work We would like to thank The Crown and Goodman Family and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia.
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Despite great obstacles, Jews throughout occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans and their Axis partners. They faced overwhelming odds and desperate scenarios, including lack of weapons and training, operating in hostile zones, parting from family members, and facing an ever-present Nazi terror. Yet thousands resisted by joining or forming partisan units. While its members did fight against the Germans and their collaborators, the Bielski group leaders emphasized providing a safe haven for Jews, particularly women, children, and elderly persons who managed to flee into the forests.
The Bielski Partisans
The partisan unit was named after the Bielskis, a family of Polish Jews who organized and led the organization. The Bielski partisans spent more than two years living in the forest. By the end of the war they numbered as many as 1, members, most of whom were non-combatants, including children and the elderly. The Bielski partisans are seen by many Jews as heroes for having led as many refugees as they did away from the perils of war and the Holocaust.
Defiance: The Bielski Partisans
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