Last night I had the rare pleasure of going to a lecture by the son of Zus Bielski (played by Liev Schreiber in the movie Defiance) held in Flagstaff.
Zvi Bielski, the son, recounted many stories of growing up around his legendary uncles and father who had all been responsible for the largest rescue of Jews in WWII and told many behind-the-scenes stories regarding what unfolded in the movie.
Some interesting tidbits and statistics:
-The final scene in the movie where they flee from the Nazis who’ve surrounded their forest camp and then retreat to the swamps, didn’t last one day but saw them waist-deep in the cold mud of the swamps for 2 weeks while being pursued by up to 60,000 German soldiers (according to Zvi). At one point during this trek, one of the partisans removes a weakened mother and infant from the line and tells them they are slowing down the group and must leave. Zus finds out, goes back, shoots the partisan, and retrieves the mother and baby.
-Those living in the forest not only got food from frequent raids on local (Nazi-sympathizetic) villages but from many farms in the area who helped the Bielski partisans along with continually hunting and fishing the forest lands. The forest was immense then- with up to 800 miles of wilderness to the north according to Zvi. I had wondered about their hunting/foraging efforts as little is covered in the books out there and Zvi said they were indeed hunting everything from deer to bear to rabbits. As we all know, a growling stomach will cause anyone to put aside their food biases after a few days!
-When Zus (again played by Liev Schreiber) meets his wife-to-be in a ghetto rescue operation by the Bielskis, she later asks him to go back and rescue her parents who are still there. He makes no promises but goes back a few days later and sneaks them out. Two days after that the Nazis removed the remaining thousands of Jews and killed them. The rescued parents lived until recently in NY and died at the ages of 99 and 98! Think of what they had seen in their lifetimes.
Other than a few minor Hollywood scenes, Zvi said the entire family, most of whom were on set as technical advisors, applauded the director and the way the movie accurately portrayed the events and characters involved. Zvi said that he and the other Bielskis still can’t spend time in Belarus because of the very real threat of retribution from those whose families suffered payback from the Bielski brothers who were merciless.
If you haven’t seen the movie, check it out- it’s a must-see piece of history and of great warriors and a survival story of epic proportions. The book by Peter Duffy, “The Bielski Brothers” was recommended above others by Zvi.
Ancient Pathways Survival School