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The Bielski Brothers
When Germany invaded Russia in June of 1941, Tuvia and his younger brother Zusia 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 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
The Bielski brothers, founding member of the Bielski partisan group ( The movie Defiance is about them) ; From Left Zusia (1906-1987), Asael (killed on the Soviet front in 1944) and Tuvia (1906-1987),
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.
The Bielski family were farmers in Stankievichy (Stankiewicze) near Nowogrodek, an area that belonged to the Second Polish Republic from 1920- 1939. In September 1939 (see: Polish September Campaign) the area was seized by the Soviet Union. beginning on June 22, 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union . Shortly after the arrival of the Nazis the Nowogrodek' Jews were forced to live in a small area that became a ghetto.
The four Bielski brothers: Tuvia, Alexander Zisel "Zus", Asael, and Aharon, managed to flee to the nearby forest after their parents and other family members were killed in the ghetto in December 1941. Together with 13 neighbors from the ghetto, they formed the nucleus of a partisan combat group.
The group's commander was the older brother, Tuvia Bielski (1906–1987), a Polish Army veteran and graduate of a Zionist youth movement. Tuvia "would rather save one old Jewish woman than kill ten German soldiers". He sent emissaries to infiltrate the other ghettos in the area, recruiting new members to join the group in the Naliboki Forest. Hundreds of men, women, and children eventually found their way to the Bielski camp, which ultimately numbered over a thousand inhabitants, both civilians and fighters.
The partisans lived in underground dugouts (zemlyankas). In addition, several utility structures were built: a kitchen, a mill, a bakery, a bathhouse, a medical clinic for sick and wounded and a quarantine hut for those who suffered from infectious diseases such as typhus. Herds of cows supplied milk.
Artisans made goods and carried out repairs, providing the combatants with logistical support that later served the Soviet partisan units in the vicinity as well. More than a hundred workers toiled in the workshops, which became famous among partisans far beyond the Bielski base: tailors patched up old clothing and stitched together new garments, shoemakers fixed old and made new footwear, leather-workers worked on belts, bridles, and saddles. A metal shop, established by Shmuel Oppenheim, repaired damaged weapons and constructed new ones from spare parts. A tannery, constructed to produce the hide for cobblers and leather workers became a de-facto synagogue because several tanners were devout Hassids. Carpenters, hat-makers, barbers, watchmakers served their own community and guests. The camp's many children went to dugout school. The camp even had its own jail and a court of law.
The Bielski group's partisan activity was aimed at the Nazis and their collaborators in the area, such as Belarusian volunteer policemen or local inhabitants who had betrayed or killed Jews. They also performed sabotage against the occupying forces. The Nazi regime offered a reward of 100,000 Reichmarks for assistance in the capture of Tuvia Bielski, and in 1943 led major clearing operations against all partisan groups in the area. Some of these groups suffered major casualties, but the Bielski partisans fled safely to a more remote part of the forest, still offering protection to the noncombatants among their band.
The Bielski partisans were affiliated with Soviet partisans in the vicinity of the Naliboki Forest under General Platon (Vasily Yefimovich Chernyshev). Several attempts by Soviet partisan commanders to absorb Bielski fighters into their units were resisted, so that the Jewish partisan group retained its integrity and remained under Tuvia Bielski's command. This allowed him to continue in his dedication to protect Jewish lives along with engaging in combat activity.
The Soviet partisan leaders split the group into two units, named Ordzhonikidze, led by Zus, and Kalinin, led by Tuvia. According to partisan documentation, Bielski fighters from both units killed a total of 381 enemy fighters, sometimes during joint actions with Soviet groups.
In the summer of 1944, when the Soviet counteroffensive began in Belarus and the area was liberated, the "Kalinin" unit comprising the Bielski partisans, numbering 1,230 men, women and children, emerged from the forest and marched into Nowogrodek.
Asael Bielski served in the Soviet Red Army and fell in battle at Königsberg in 1945.
After the war, Tuvia Bielski returned to Poland, then emigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1945. The surviving Bielski brothers eventually settled in the United States.
Aharon (who changed his name to Aron Bell in USA) was accused of kidnapping and theft and jailed in 2007.
Allegations of war crimes
Bielski partisans are accused of war crimes (mostly armed robbery) on the neighbouring population; particularly for involvement in the massacre of 128 people committed by the Soviet partisans from Naliboki Forest in the Polish town of Naliboki in 1943. The investigation into the Naliboki case is being carried out by the Polish IPN institute. Members of the brigade and other historians vehemently deny any involvement in the massacre, citing the fact that the partisans did not arrive in the area until several months after the event took place.
As revealed, for example, by interviews in the film The Bielski Brothers: Jerusalem in the Woods, the Bielski Partisans felt it necessary for their survival to be ruthless. Collaborators who turned in partisans to Nazi authorities were executed after cursory investigation. A group of German soldiers who surrendered to the Bielskis were summarily executed, presumably because there was no way for the partisans to keep prisoners in the field, but also because many partisans, who had suffered the loss of family at the hands of the Nazis, sought revenge. Ruthlessness sometimes extended to their own: In at least one instance, Zus Bielski executed one of his own officers for leaving a civilian behind, because the Bielski partisans maintained a non-negotiable policy of protecting Jewish civilians.
In books and film
There are currently two books written solely on the Bielski story: Defiance by Nechama Tec and The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy. The group is also mentioned in numerous books about this period in history.
In a 2006 History Channel made a documentary entitled The Bielski Brothers: Jerusalem In The Woods, written and directed by filmmaker Dean Ward.
A 2008 film based on the exploits of the Bielski brothers, Defiance, was filmed by Edward Zwick and is scheduled for a December 31, 2008 release date.
The BBC series Ray Mears's Extreme Survival featured an episode about the Bielski partisans. In this episode it was claimed that some 50 Bielski partisans were killed in action.
1. ^ Duffy, Peter, The Bielski Brothers. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. ISBN 0-06-621074-7. p.X
* Alperowitz, Yitzchak. "Tuvia Bielski", in Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust vol. 1, p. 215–16. Illustrations.
* Duffy, Peter, The Bielski Brothers. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. ISBN 0-06-621074-7.
* The Bielski PartisansHolocaust Encyclopedia United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bielski_partisans"
The Peter Duffy's book received a lot of critical reviews from Polish readers. Many, but not all, of those reviews came from extreme right-wing and/or antisemitic circles. After removing the rhetoric, main points raised are :
* The repeating the myth about supposed Bór-Komorowski order which allegedly mandated Polish underground to kill off Jewish partisans (this allegations is probably based on order nr. 116, which called for extermination of criminal groups and protecting local population).
Tuvia Bielski (1906–1987) was the leader of the partisan group the Bielski Brothers who were situated in the Naliboki forest in Polish Western Belarus during the Second World War. His aim as leader was not to attack railroads and roads that the Nazis were using as supply routes--although there were some attacks--but to save the Jews who were under persecution from the Nazis.
After the war he was awarded a high ranking job in the Israel Defence Forces for his great acts of leadership but he declined and worked as a cabbie in New York City until his death in 1987.
He is portrayed by Daniel Craig in the 2008 film Defiance.
Tuvia grew up in the only Jewish family of Stankiewicze, a small village in Western Belarus located between Lida and Nowogrodek, (both of which later housed Jewish ghettos during World War II.) He was the son of David and Beila Bielski who had twelve children: ten boys and two girls. Tuvia was the third oldest after two brothers.
During World War I Tuvia spent a lot of time with German soldiers who occupied that part of the country at the time. He learned to speak German from these men and remembered it all his life. In 1927 he was recruited into the Polish army. After his military service was over Tuvia returned home where he was reminded of the poverty his family lived in. In an effort to add to his family's income, Tuvia rented another mill. This however was still inadequate, so in 1929, at the age of twenty-three, he married an older woman named Rifka who owned a general store and a large house. 
1. ^ Tec, Nechama. Defiance; the Bielski Partisans
Asael Bielski (1908-1945) (pronounced uh-soil) was a Jewish born Bellerussian, second in command of the Bielski otriad during World War II. He is portrayed by Jamie Bell in the 2008 film Defiance.
 Early life
Asael was the fourth oldest boy of David and Beila Bielski. (Two years younger than Tuvia, his older brother who later commanded the Bielski otriad.) The Bielskis were the only Jewish family of Stankiewicze, a small village in Western Bellerussia located between Lida and Nowogrodek, (both of which later housed Jewish ghettos during World War II.) Asael was quieter than his brothers. He was very reserved and content to stay on the farm and around those he knew well. He was good-looking, though, some say not as attractive as his brothers. 
With his older brothers leaving home, and his father's health deteriorating, Asael was becoming the new head of the household. As the male leader of the family he had to arrange the marriage of his sister Tajba to an upper-class man named Avremale. (Tajba was very beautiful, which is why she was able to secure such a marriage.) 
Avremale had a sister named Chaja who was a high school graduate, which was rare for the time and place. Hearing that Asael needed help with bookkeeping, the kind-hearted, eager to help the needy, Chaja offered to tutor him. He fell madly in love with her, but she was in every way his superior, class, sophistication; he had little chance of attracting her. 
Although before the war, Asael had no chance at Chaja, during the war years many things changed; among them were social classes. Chaja lived in the ghetto at first, then finally fled, leaving her boyfriend there. She lived in an underground hiding spot near the home of a Christian peasant, along with her two nephews.
] The War
After the Germans took over Belarus, Asael and two of his brothers, Tuvia and Zus were accused of communist collaboration. After being warned by a Belarussian policeman, they all went into hiding.
It wasn't till later that Tuvia's group joined Asael's larger group of thirteen. Before this however, Zus joined Asael, as did their younger brother Aaron. Another addition to the group included Chaja.
Asael Bielski served in the Soviet Red Army and fell in the battle of Königsberg in 1945.--
Robert Bielski, Tuvia’s son, recalled that his father was a man of few words and strong principle: “He was proud, and he never talked about himself as a hero but always about the responsibility that we should all feel to the Jewish people. He was the calmest man, but he had a rare temper. If he was on the verge of losing it, you knew—abandon ship!” Assaela Bielski, Asael’s daughter, who never got to meet her father, had come from Israel, where she works as a journalist. “The strange thing is that my mother had such beautiful memories of their time in the forest, maybe because that was the only time they were together,” she said. “They had grown up right there. My mother’s stories were always funny, romantic—about how young and beautiful everyone was. And it would always be funny—they would laugh endlessly, say, when a German airplane dropped a bomb in the wrong place. Is that tragic or funny? I don’t know.”
Zvi Bielski, Zus’s son, has a lot of memories. “My father was a very, very aggressive person, but he never hit me,” he said. He described walking in Central Park once with his father, then in his sixties, and coming upon a mounted police officer whose horse was acting up. “My father just approached the horse, which was bucking wildly—the cop was embarrassed—and my dad just calmed it down. That’s how gentle he was.”
He went on, “My dad came to visit me in Israel when I was in the Army. First he told me not to go—but when he came to visit he was so proud. He took the gun out of my hands, handled it like a pair of sneakers. ‘Never have your gun on safety,’ he told me. He was a great father, but he was hard to impress. I used to skydive, and once I had a videotape made—a cameraman jumped out with me. I couldn’t wait to get to Brooklyn to show it to Dad! So I showed him the tape. Nothing, no expression. So, finally, I say, ‘Pop, did you see that shit!’ He looked at me: ‘So? You had a parachute, didn’t you?’ ” ♦
Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2008/10/27/081027ta_talk_gopnik#ixzz0mVHti2Po
PALM HARBOR — In 1941, as the Jews of Eastern Europe were being massacred by the tousands, the Bielski brothers took refuge in a dense Polish forest filled with wolves, poisonous snakes, swamps and frigid temperatures during the winterIt was there they staged their revenge for the deaths of their parents, family members and friends.
The horrific actions by the German Nazis turned Tuvia, Asael and Zus Bielski (approximate ages were 33, 30 and 27 at the time) into guerrilla fighters as well as tender-hearted souls who created a makeshift village in the woods to shelter and protect more than 1,200 Jews.
Five generations later, "20,000 Jewish people are alive because of the work the Bielski brothers," said Zvi Bielski of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Zvi Bielski, the son of Zus Bielski, visited the Chabad of Pinellas County in Palm Harbor on Tuesday night to share some of the brothers' heroic stories as told in the 2008 movie Defiance.
He warned the audience the stories weren't pretty, as the Bielskis made sure those responsible paid dearly for Jewish deaths.
"They survived by killing Nazis," said Zvi Bielski, who would say only he's in his 50s. "They took their heads off and put them on trees so when others came to the forest they would know that the partisans were waiting for them. They killed to save Jewish people."
As they eliminated the Nazis searching for them, they collected their weapons and explosives.
The Bielski Brigade also let it be known that they wouldn't tolerate those who turned in their Jewish brothers to the German occupiers.
On a couple of occasions, they went to Polish homes, killed the families and burned their houses down.
Nothing was taken, Zvi Bielski said, "but it left a sign that if you turn in a Jew, this is what will happen to you."
Tuvia Bielski was Zvi's uncle. In the movie, he was played by actor Daniel Craig, perhaps better known as the latest James Bond.
"He was the commander and most famous," he said. Tuvia Bielski declared they would save every single Jew they could find: "the sick, the old, the young, the rabbi — everybody. It didn't make a difference. That was the goal."
Bielski's father was played by actor Liev Schreiber, whom Zvi thought did a wonderful job.
It was in the forest that Zus met his future wife, Sonja, who was 17 then.
Zus Bielski wanted her to sleep with him, but she negotiated for him to save her parents first from a ghetto. He did and lived to be 83.
Before coming to Palm Harbor, Bielski asked his mother, now 89 and in failing health, for something special to share with the audience.
She thought for a time then said, "Tell them I was a very, very, very pretty girl."
The line drew lots of laughs and Bielski passed around copies of her picture at 17 so people could judge for themselves.
Food was scare for those hiding in the woods, but the partisans eventually built communal kitchens, living quarters, a school and synagogues — even a bakery.
The brothers also met and befriended members of the Russian army.
The Russians loved the Bielskis, Bielski said, for reasons other than that they were both fighting a common enemy.
"One, they were tall, big, strong guys that walked around with machine guns and they knew the area," he said. "Two, they could drink more vodka than them. Third, they had more girlfriends."
Before his death, Zus Bielski told his son he had only one regret.
"I wish I could have saved more," he said.
It was Zus' obituary that ran on Aug. 23, 1995 in the New York Times that would inspire the movie's screenwriter and director to collaborate on the film.
Tuvia Bielski's grandson, Brendon Rennert, 41, lives in Tampa and serves on the board of directors for the Florida Holocaust Museum.
He was there for Tuesday night's presentation.
"I've heard lots of stories all my life from people that the brothers saved," he said.
Raphael Cohen, 70, lives in Indian Rocks Beach, along with his mother-in-law, Mini Friedman. She's 95 and a concentration camp survivor.
He said the Bielski brothers did what no one else could.
"They had the courage to establish a small army to save their own," he said.
Brian Rocklin, 74, of Palm Harbor said the presentation was inspirational.
"It reminds us how precious the freedom we have in America is," he said.
"We have to have the strength and resolve to protect that freedom."
Crafting Beauty From Despair: Violins of Hope
By Peter Duffy
Soon after landing in Tel Aviv a few years ago, I found myself in the atelier of Amnon Weinstein, a renowned violin maker on Shlomo Hamelech Street. I had come to Israel in search of Jewish partisans, those exceptional individuals who had not only risen up against Hitler in Eastern Europe, but also, soon afterward, had defended an Israeli state struggling for life. Weinstein, as it happens, married into partisan royalty: His wife, Asaela — or Assi, as she is known — is the daughter of Asael Bielski, the second of the three Bielski brothers (made famous by Edward Zwick’s recent film “Defiance”) who saved 1,200 Jews in the occupied Soviet Union during World War II.
While my mission was to find Assi, I couldn’t help but be enchanted by the aura of Weinstein’s workshop: the scent of varnish, the instruments in various states of construction, the steady succession of friends and musicians. At the center of it was the distinctive figure of Weinstein himself. With his bushy mustache flecked with bits of wood shavings, and glasses perched at the end of his nose, he looked every bit the master craftsman, right down to his brusque disinterest in suffering fools. “Are you serious about this project?” he asked me bluntly.
Indeed, his credentials as an artisan are impeccable. He learned his art at the side of his father, Moshe, who was born in Vilnius (known also as Vilna) and began servicing Bronislaw Huberman’s newly established Israel Philharmonic Orchestra when he arrived in Tel Aviv in 1938. Moshe Weinstein provided the first violins for youngsters with names like Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Shlomo Mintz. Amnon then went to Europe, where he was tutored by such masters as Étienne Vatelot of Paris and Pietro Sgarabotto of the northern Italian city of Cremona, birthplace of the Stradivarius violin. He took over his father’s shop the day the old man died.
When I met him, Weinstein was in the midst of a project, begun in 1996, to locate and restore violins played by Jews in the ghettos, camps and forests during the Holocaust. In Israel, the effort has recently received a fair amount of attention. In September 2008, 16 of the instruments — Weinstein has found some 20 in all — were played at a gala concert at the foot of the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem, featuring the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic and the Ra’anana Symphony Orchestra. The Jerusalem- and Paris-based agency BluePress has chronicled Weinstein’s project with a sumptuous book of photographs by Lucille Reyboz and a just-completed documentary film by Jean-Marie Hosatte. The company is currently negotiating to have the film, “Amnon’s Journey,” shown in the United States.
“If you have very good ears and you are listening, it’s unbelievable what you can hear when these violins are played,” Weinstein said. “You can hear the suffering.”
Perhaps the most celebrated of Weinstein’s violins is one that relates to the tradition of resistance embodied by his wife’s family. It was brought to him in 2000 by Seffi Hanegbi, a tour guide in the Negev desert who is also of celebrated partisan lineage: He is the grandson of Moshe Gildenman, the Jewish partisan commander in Ukraine renowned as “Diadia Misha” or “Uncle Misha.” Gildenman, a native of the town of Korets, led a unit with his son (Seffi’s father), Simcha, primarily in the Zhitomir region, conducting a wide variety of guerrilla missions against the German occupiers and their collaborators.
Hanegbi arrived at the workshop with an unremarkable German-made violin in a battered case, an artifact that had been gathering dust in the family home for decades. “It was a common instrument for all the Jewish people,” Weinstein said. “Simple, not expensive, nothing special.” Hanegbi described to Weinstein how the violin belonged to a partisan, the youngest member of Gildenman’s group, a blond-haired boy known as Motele.
Motele’s story is the stuff of legend. Gildenman’s fighters discovered him one day, sleeping in the woods. The 12-year-old son of a miller from the village of Karsnovka, Mordechai Schlein had fled to the forest after his parents and younger sister were killed in an aktion. After joining the Jewish outfit — one of several detachments within a 1,500-strong Soviet partisan brigade — Schlein was selected by Gildenman to travel with several other partisans into the village of Ovruch on August 20, 1943, according to Gildenman’s memoirs.
Armed with false papers in case he was questioned, Schlein was instructed to join a crowd of beggars in front of the church and to play Ukrainian folk tunes on his violin. His mission was merely to keep an eye out for his fellow partisans and alert his commanders if anything happened to them.
But the boy had talent. Soon a crowd gathered to hear the melodies he remembered from his neighbors back home. Among the spectators was a German officer, who plucked him from his spot and took him to a restaurant favored by the occupiers. He was told to perform with an elderly piano player, who spread out sheet music for Paderewski’s Minuet, a popular but difficult piece written by the Polish composer. Schlein played so well that he was offered a job to perform there every day.
One day, he noticed large cracks in one of the restaurant’s storage rooms, and he hatched a plan to place explosives in the fissures. Since it was now harvest time, and there was frequent traffic between village and countryside, Schlein was able to sneak into the woods and, using his violin case, gradually transport 18 kilograms of incendiary material into the building, shoving the explosives into the cellar walls during breaks in his playing schedule.
Then he waited for the opportune moment to strike. It came when members of an SS division visited on their way to the front. After playing deep into the evening with his accompanist, Schlein adjourned to the basement as the drunken Germans took over the piano. “In the dark he found the end of the bomb wick and ignited it,” Gildenman wrote. “When he came to the exit, he slowed down and approached the German guard and allowed himself a joke. He held up his right arm and called out, ‘Heil Hitler!’” Schlein was 200 yards away when the bombs detonated, killing an unknown number of Germans. Upon reaching his fellow partisans, Schlein raised a clenched fist to the sky and said, “This is for my parents and little Bashiale.”
Schlein would not survive the war. He was just 14 when he was killed during a German bombardment in 1944. Gildenman took possession of his violin, carrying it with him to Berlin, then Paris and finally Israel, where he died in 1958.
After Weinstein completed restoration work on the violin — it was in relatively good shape, he says — Hanegbi donated it to Yad Vashem with the stipulation that it be available for performances. Last September, a teenage boy named David Strongin played what is known as “Motele’s violin” during the concert at the walls of the Old City, joining the great Mintz on “Hatikvah” to conclude the evening. On Monday, April 20, Strongin played it again during the opening ceremonies for Yad Vashem’s commemoration of Yom HaShoah.
“I cry,” Hanegbi said when asked how he responds to hearing the instrument produce music. “It’s true, really. Every time I hear the violin play, I have tears in my eyes.”
Peter Duffy is the author of “The Bielski Brothers” (Harper Perennial, 2004).