We are proud to announce that BookBrowse has won Platinum in the 2024 Modern Library Awards.

Excerpt from The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Bielski Brothers

The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Saved 1,200 Jews, and Built a Village in the Forest

by Peter Duffy

The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy X
The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2003, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2004, 336 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Prologue
"I will be famous when I'm dead." -Tuvia Bielski

Three men, brothers, saved as many Jews during World War II as Oskar Schindler, and organized a military force that killed hundreds of enemy soldiers, nearly as many as did the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Their names were Tuvia, Asael, and Zus Bielski; and to the twelve hundred Jews who walked out of the Belorussian forests in July 1944, and to the several generations of offspring of those survivors, these men were legend, revered as heroes. But outside this core group, the men behind the largest and most successful Jewish fighting and rescue force of the war have gone almost entirely uncelebrated; in the sixty years since, only a few books have detailed their achievements and hardly a plaque bears their names.

I stumbled upon this story while conducting a random online search. A stray reference to "Forest Jews" stirred my curiosity and led me down a path that would consume me for three years to come--a path that gave me a remarkable opportunity to gather the firsthand stories of Holocaust survivors, in a few cases just months and even weeks before they died.

And so, after dozens of interviews during which I heard stories about life in the forests of current-day western Belarus, where the Bielskis' stand against the Germans resulted in the creation of a village with makeshift workshops and primitive dwellings, I found myself, on June 27, 2001, standing at the edge of the largest of these forests. Guided by an elderly Polish woman named Leokadia Lankovich, I had a chance to imagine what it must have been like.

But nothing about the Naliboki Puscha - puscha is a word common to the Polish, Russian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian languages that means "dense forest" - indicated that it had been host to anything out of the ordinary. It looked like any forest in any country. Yet some of the most extraordinary acts of wartime courage and ingenuity occurred among these pine and fir trees.

The Bielski group contained an astonishing eight hundred Jews when it reached these woods in the summer of 1943. More than a year earlier, the brothers had established a forest base, populated by several relatives, in the woods near the Bielski family homestead. The oldest and wisest of the three, Tuvia, had insisted that the group be open to all Jews, no matter whether they were young or old, healthy or sick, soldier or invalid. "I would rather save one old Jewish woman," he would say, "than kill ten German soldiers." Slowly more people arrived, often rescued from the ghettos by Bielski fighters, until the unit was a huge collection of escapees moving from forest to forest one step ahead of the Germans.

In August 1943, Hitler sent his most ferocious and lawless troops into this puscha, with the intent to kill every member of the Bielski group. In a desperate bid for survival, the brothers led all eight hundred members through miles of puscha swamps as gunfire whistled past their heads and shouts of enemy soldiers filled their ears. They finally reached an isolated island in the very heart of the great forest, where they lived, in silence and without food, until the Nazis gave up their hunt. Not a single person was lost. It was an escape of breathtaking audacity.

Afterward, the three brothers identified a secure, dry spot in the puscha, where they directed the construction of a miniature city. It had living quarters; workshops for tailors, shoemakers, seamstresses, and carpenters; a large herd of cows and horses; a school for sixty children; a main street and a central square; a musical and dramatic theater; and a tannery that doubled as a synagogue. To the weary Jews who had narrowly escaped death by fleeing ghettos and labor camps, it was like a vision from another world, an astonishing place where Jews lived in freedom in the heart of Nazi-dominated Europe.

The foregoing is excerpted from The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Atlas of Us
    The Atlas of Us
    by Kristin Dwyer
    Despite her name, Atlas James feels like she lacks a road map for her future. In the months since ...
  • Book Jacket: One Hour of Fervor
    One Hour of Fervor
    by Muriel Barbery
    Set during multiple decades across the turn of the 21st century, One Hour of Fervor follows Haru, a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Ascent
    The Ascent
    by Adam Plantinga
    Adam Plantinga's brilliant debut novel, The Ascent, introduces readers to former Detroit police ...
  • Book Jacket: The Curse of Pietro Houdini
    The Curse of Pietro Houdini
    by Derek B. Miller
    Derek B. Miller's sixth novel, The Curse of Pietro Houdini, opens in the town of Cassino, Italy, in ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Clytemnestra
by Costanza Casati
A feminist Greek retelling about the most notorious heroine of the ancient world and the events that forged her into a legendary queen.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Strong Passions
    by Barbara Weisberg

    Shocking revelations of a wife's adultery in 19th New York explode in an incendiary trial exposing the upper-crust and its secrets.

  • Book Jacket

    Help Wanted
    by Adelle Waldman

    From the best-selling author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. comes a funny, eye-opening tale of work in contemporary America.

Win This Book
Win The Cleaner

The Cleaner
by Brandi Wells

Rarely has cubicle culture been depicted in such griminess or with such glee."
PW (starred review)

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

M T G Before I S

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.