Thursday, June 25, 2009


Every once in a while I see a movie that really sticks with me. I think this one is worth passing on.

Defiance (out on DVD) is the story of the Bielski Partisans, a group of Jews who escaped into the forests of what is now Belarus during WW II.

I remember visiting the Holocaust Museum in DC about 15 years ago and being overwhelmed by a sense of frustration at the passivity of the Jews in the face of destruction. Why didn’t they fight back — die on their feet instead of on their knees?

Looking at it rationally, there’s a lot of reasons it went down as it did. The bald fact is that not many were in any position to fight back — and many thought that if they could just survive and buy time, they cold weather this great pogrom as they had weathered them for centuries.

They could not yet understand the ferocity of the Nazi’s intent: extermination. It’s still almost incomprehensible today.

But some did fight, escaping from ghettos and camps to the forests to join partisan bands, many of them Soviets who had been cut off in the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

The Bielski Brothers founded their own partisan band. Their focus, at elder brother Tuvia’s insistence, was on saving Jews rather than fighting the Germans, but fight they did, and effectively.

Watching the movie led me to read a history of the partisans titled The Bielski Brothers, available at the Deschutes Public Library.

It’s a story worth knowing. The movie is well-done, with a fine character study of the brothers and the strains of leadership. Choices were often brutal.

There’s plenty of action, but it is markedly different from the usual Hollywood fare. The violence is not exhilarating; it is frightening and nerve-wracking.

Through their determination to live like human beings, even if it was only for a short time, the Bielskis saved 1,200 Jews. After the war, the brothers faded into obscurity.
They deserve to be remembered and Defiance does them justice.

Jim Cornelius, Editor

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