There must be so many untold stories of heroism from World War II. The movie Schindler’s List, based on a book written in 1982, brought attention to the story of one man who was responsible for saving the lives of more than a thousand Jews during the Holocaust. More recently the story of the Bielski Brothers – Tuvia, Asael and Zus, has been uncovered and told in book and film.
In June 1941 Hitler’s armies invaded Russia in what was known as Operation Barbarossa, and quickly advanced to the city of Novogrudek in Western Belarus where they began to impose regulations to control the Jewish population and set up the Novogrudek ghetto.
As the intentions of the Nazis became clear the brothers became increasingly worried about the safety of their relatives and they decided to move everyone into the puschas or dense forests of Belarus. Tuvia at the age of thirty-six years became the leader of the group:
Having grown up in a farming community the brothers were familiar with the surrounding forest and the skills needed to survive in such a place, and for two and a half years, they not only evaded the Nazis but waged a guerilla war against their enemies whilst caring for the very young and elderly members of their community. They established workshops and a school, and provided a ‘Jerusalem in the woods’ for other Jews fleeing from persecution.
I found out about the brothers by accident when my husband brought home a DVD he’d found at the library. Defiance was the title and we watched it with our 18 year old who is doing some readings from AO Year 11 (20th Century) while he is doing an electrical course.
It’s bleak, violent and contains coarse language – what you’d expect from a movie about war, but I thought it was done quite well. We didn’t let our 16 year old watch it but I talked with him and our younger ones about the story and then I found a video online in which Ray Sears, an English woodsman, travels to the Belorussian forests and demonstrates the various bushcraft techniques the community used to survive during their time there. This would be suitable and of interest for about age 10 or 12 and up. It includes some historical clips and interviews with residents of the area and the connection of history with bushcraft (nature study) was inspiring and something I enjoyed sharing with my boys.
Update: a news article about the Bielski descendants and their view of the movie. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/real-defiance-family-brooklyn-article-1.420286
Also see www.courageandcompassionexhibit.com (with thanks to the person who commented below)