The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews
In 1941, three brothers witnessed their parents and two other siblingsbeing led away to their eventual murders. It was a grim scene that would,of course, be repeated endlessly throughout the war. Instead of running orgiving in to despair, these brothers — Tuvia, Zus, and Asael Bielski — foughtback, waging a guerrilla war of wits against the Nazis.
By using their intimate knowledge of the dense forests surrounding theBelarusan towns of Novogrudek and Lida, the Bielskis evaded the Nazis andestablished a hidden base camp, then set about convincing other Jews to jointheir ranks. As more and more Jews arrived each day, a robust communitybegan to emerge, a “Jerusalem in the woods.”
After two and a half years in the woods, in July 1944, the Bielskis learnedthat the Germans, overrun by the Red Army, were retreating back towardBerlin. More than one thousand Bielski Jews emerged — alive — on that final,triumphant exit from the woods.
“Everyone knows about Oskar Schindler and his list, but the heroism of the Jewish brothers Tuvia, Asael and ZusBielski has largely been unsung. In World War II, the Russian trio saved 1,200 Jews from death camps by hiding them in a village they created in a forest in Belarus. The village, one Polish survivor recalled, “was like Minsk,” a thriving cultural center.
“This moving account reports how the Jews at the camp evaded both nearby traitors and Nazis, who at one point came after them with a 900-man commando unit.
“The Bielskis, whose parents died in the Holocaust, were forgotten. Asael died in combat, but the other two made it to Brooklyn. Tuvia died in 1987 and Zus in 1995. Their little brother, Aron, once a 12-year-old scout in the forest, now lives in Florida. BOTTOM LINE: As amazing as Schindler’s List.”
People magazine, starred review
“The Bielski Brothers reads like an action novel. And it is some story. Three macho and street-savvy young men — Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski — rise brilliantly to the occasion of extreme crisis by creating not only a viable partisan fighting force in the forests of the Lida-Novogrudek region of Belarus but a ‘forest shtetl, a Jewish village [of some 800 inhabitants] in the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe … a mini-civilization, a small-scale replica of what the Nazis had succeeded in destroying throughout the towns and cities of western Belarus, indeed much of Europe.’ …
“Fast-paced and deeply moving … inspiring in its representation of the heroism of ordinary people.”
“Drawing on the memories of many of the survivors, Duffy’s book is a gripping and overdue tribute to the brothers’ resourcefulness and courage.”
The Times (of London)
“The precision of Duffy’s reporting shows through vivid details that bring his characters and their experiences to life—everything from the bacon the young Bielski brothers kept stashed in their barn because it wasn’t kosher to their lives in the woods, where frigid air froze hot soup in their bowls and they had to kill typhus-ridden lice by burning them from their flesh. The result is a book with the grip of good fiction and the punch of hard truth.”
Rebecca Skloot, Chicago Tribune
“This is captivating material. Amid an almost entirely lachrymose historical memory, it is a welcome story of bold, determined and successful resistance.”
Wesley Yang, San Francisco Chronicle
“After writing a magazine article about the brothers, Mr. Duffy tracked down family members and survivors in the United States, Europe and Israel and uncovered documents including Tuvia Bielski’s unpublished memoir. He weaves it all skillfully into an engrossing, inspiring narrative, one, however, that is not without blemishes: Obsessed with survival, Tuvia unabashedly wielded power, even killing one of his Jewish rivals.
But the result was that more than a thousand Jews emerged from the Belorussian forest after the Nazi defeat, an incredible victory amid an immeasurable tragedy. Like Oskar Schindler, the Bielskis will be recognized far too late for their valor, but this book should ensure they’ll never be forgotten.”
Dallas Morning News
“This is a story about heroes, and Duffy does a masterful job of telling it.”
“Duffy tells their hair-raising adventures well, as they move from wood to wood to escape the Nazis, and finally build a city in the forest, complete with workshops for tailors, leatherworkers and watchmakers, a bakery and forge, a school and infirmary, even a cemetery and a jail. He details the terrible struggles against enemies inside the group as well as out, and does not hide the moral ambiguities of his heroes in war:
“Zus in particular shot first and asked questions after, and even Tuvia killed a fellow Jew in anger at the end. But that end in particular is especially moving. The villagers watch the long line of 1,000 Jews leaving the forest, and ask in disbelief, ‘Are you ghosts?’ And after the end there was a sad lack of recognition for the brothers, two of whom ended their lives as poor immigrants in America. But Zus, at least, didn’t change. At 82, in an interview for the Washington Holocaust Museum, he was asked what he remembered about the Nazis. ‘I remember they were bastards, ‘ he said.”
Carole Angier, The Spectator (UK)
“Duffy´s book is an act of restoration, if not of resurrection, tipping the scale to the side of historical rectitude, shedding a steady light on the formidable story of forest Jews too long hidden in the shadows.
“Although Duffy conveys the thrill and travail of their extraordinary act of defiance, he is not loath to discuss the moral compromises and peccadilloes, even acts of moral outrage, the Bielskis occasionally committed. He gives us the full chiaroscuro effect, painting both the hues of light and shadow that constitute a picture of heroism in extremis.”
Michael Skakun, The Jewish Press