If someone were to ask you what you knew about the Holocaust, what would you say? How would you classify that time? Before learning about The Bielski Brothers and other courageous Jewish immigrants, I would say the Holocaust was a time where Jews were persecuted and executed unmercifully without a fight.  “Though one of the standard clichés of the Holocaust is that Europe’s Jews were exterminated without offering any resistance, historians have gradually uncovered evidence to the contrary, with the Bielskis being the prime case in point.” (Turan, LA Times) Furthermore, I would never have had one positive thing to say about the time because it was a period of genocide enforced by one of the most hated men in all human history that goes by the name of Adolf Hitler.  I would have seen this time as a negative one and would have never seen anything positive about it.  However, that is not the case now.  With every negative there is a positive and there is most certainly a positive in the story I am about to tell.  The Bielski Brother Otriad story that is depicted in the movie, Defiance, is one that exhibits courage and utter selflessness in order to preserve humanity and the lives of other Jews in a time of extreme chaos that resulted in the saving of countless lives and families that live freely here in America today.   

The location on the left is where the Bielski Brothers lived leading up to the invasion of the Germans. The location on the right is the Naliboki Forest in which they escaped and saved up to 1,2500 Jews.

The efforts that the Bielski Brothers took part in were nothing but a miracle and acts of true courageousness, love, and honor.  If it was not for the Bielski Brothers, there would have been even more countless lives that would have perished from the horrible time of the Holocaust.  Tuvia and Zus and are now dead but during their life they were able to make it to America and experience true freedom in which they so rightfully deserved.  Tuvia and Zus lived in the community of Midwood in Brooklyn, New York.  Tuvia ended up being a truck driver, and Zus ran a trucking and taxi company.  Even though this may seem as a normal, middle-class, blue-collar jobs they were content with simply working and watching their children have normal lives that did not include the struggle that they were faced with in their lives. 

 The Bielski Brothers also impacted other Jewish immigrants that were able to make it to America after their time in the forest.  After the war was over, members of the “Forest Jews” group began to get together every so often and still meet to talk about old stories at family events.  At a bar mitsvah for two of Zus’s grandchildren, members from that time were gathered to celebrate.  “The presence of the Bielski brothers hovered over the event. ”Half of this room wouldn’t be here without them,” said one man.” ”Even at the last bar mitzvah, there were lot more people,” said Leah Kotler, 76, of Mill Basin, Brooklyn, pointing out that survivors filled just two tables. ”It is very, very sad. But we expected this in 1942. So this is a bonus just to be alive.”(Duffy, NY Times) These powerful testimonies just go to show the mark that the Bielski Brothers made on other Jewish lives that led to prosperous lives for others and their families and their lives in America.   

“Defiance.” Defiance (2008) Film, 2008, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defiance_(2008_film) .

The film, Defiance, depicts the incredible story of the Bielski Brothers and the “Forest Jews.”  If it was not for this film, I would have never heard about this compelling story that occurred during the Holocaust period and would have never known that people that were involved in it survived and made it to America.  Remembering this movie, I felt compelled to tell this story for others that have not been able to hear it before either.  The director of the movie, Edward Zwick, even stated “Why, I wondered while growing up, had I not known these stories? Could it be that the necessary commemoration of six million dead had so eclipsed the struggles of those who survived and how? This story needed to be told.”  I completely agree Mr. Zwick, this story needs to be told.   

Scene from Defiance when Tuvia Beilski (Daniel Craig) exclaims to the others that their revenge is to live.

The Bielski Brother story is one that is inspirational and eye opening.  It is one that depicts a story of three brothers that loved their family and their people to do whatever it took to survive.  It is also one that shows through the movie, Defiance, a heart-compelling will to save Jews knowing the end result would be freedom.  This freedom resulted in countless lives and families that were preserved and now reside in America as proud Jewish Immigrants that live happy lives today.

How to Cite: Trey Polewski. “Defiance: The Untold Story of Jewish Immigrants,” Digital History at USCA, 2021, https://digitalhistoryusca.com/2021/04/24/defiance-the-untold-story-of-jewish-immigrants/

Further Readings:

“Holocaust Resistance.” The White Rose – A Lesson in Dissent. The Future of Freedom Foundation, 2021. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-white-rose-a-lesson-in-dissent.

Spiegelman, Art, and Art Spiegelman. Maus. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt-Taschenbuch-Verl., 2004.

Featured Image: 2021. Bielski Partisans. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bielski_partisans.

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