Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuvia Bielski (1906-1987), Leader of Bielski Partisan

Tuvia Bielski

The Bielski partisans

Partisans operating in the forests of Belarus

Daniel Craig stars as Tuvia Bielski in Defiance

Tuvia Bielski (May 8, 1906 – June 12, 1987) was the leader of the partisan group the Bielski partisans who were situated in the Naliboki forest in pre-war Poland (now Western Belarus) during World War II.

Tuvia grew up in the only Polish Jewish family in Stankiewicze, a small village in Eastern Poland (now Western Belarus) located between towns of Lida and Navahrudak (both housed Jewish ghettoes 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 eldest. His brothers Asael, Alexander ('Zus') and Aron were later to become members of his partisan group.

During the First World War, Bielski served as an interpreter for the Imperial German Army, which were occupying the western territories of the Russian Empire. Already a speaker of Yiddish, he learned to speak the German language from these men and remembered it all his life. In 1927, he was recruited into the Polish Army, where he eventually became a corporal in the 30th Infantry Battalion. After his military service was over, Tuvia returned home. In an effort to add to his family's income, Tuvia rented another mill. This 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. The couple lived in the nearby small town of Subotniki. They were conducting retail business in the store.

During the Soviet occupation in 1939, Tuvia was fearing that he would be arrested by the NKVD due to his "bourgeois capitalist" occupation, so he moved to Lida. Before Tuvia left Subotniki he urged his wife, Rifka, to join him in the move to Lida. She refused.

In Lida, under Soviet control, Tuvia met and fell in love with another woman named Sonia. The love affair became serious. In late 1939, Tuvia divorced his wife, Rifka. He married Sonia, though they were not "officially" married due to wartime conditions.

When Operation Barbarossa broke out, Tuvia, Zus, and Asael were called up by their army units to fight against the Nazi German occupiers. Tuvia recalls: "Suddenly about fifty planes (Luftwaffe) flew over the town dropping incendiary bombs. In a very few minutes the entire place was on fire. The commander called us in, ordered us to leave the burning town and regroup in a forest about five kilometers from there. We were to continue working. We carried out his command but soon after we began our job in the forest another wave of planes flew over the area and set the woods on fire. The commander called us in and said: 'Friends, you are on your own!'" After the units disbanded, the Bielski brothers fled to Stankiewicze, where their parents lived. In early July 1941, a German army unit arrived in Stankiewicze.

During World War II, Tuvia Bielski led a group of Jewish refugees. He saved more than 1,200 Jews by hiding them in forests. Although always hunted by Nazis, the numbers of the refugees continued to grow. In their camp, they built a school, a hospital, and a nursery. The refugees lived in the forests for more than two years. As leader of the Bielski partisans, his aim was not to attack railroads and roads that the German Nazis were using as supply routes, although there were some such attacks, but to save Jews, who were under persecution from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

After the war, Tuvia Bielski was offered a high position in the Israel Defense Forces for his great acts of leadership; but he declined the offer, instead running a small trucking firm with his brother Zus in New York City for 30 years until his death in 1987. He married Lilka, another Jewish escapee; they remained married for the remainder of their lives. They had at least three children—sons Michael and Robert and a daughter, Ruth—and at least one granddaughter, Sharon Rennert, who herself has made a documentary about her family called In Our Hands: The Legacy of the Bielski Partisans.

He is portrayed by Daniel Craig in the 2008 film Defiance, which has been criticised in Poland due to its omission of the alleged involvement of the Bielski group in a massacre of Polish civilians conducted by Soviet-aligned partisans in Naliboki. The Bielski partisan group was the subject of an official inquiry by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance's Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation after witnesses testified that Bielski partisans were among the perpetrators of the Naliboki massacre; however, the investigation found no conclusive evidence linking the Bielski group to the crime.

Sources :

No comments:

Post a Comment