Summary and book reviews of The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy

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
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2003, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2004, 336 pages

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Book Summary

The inspiring and harrowing true story of three brothers who established a hidden base camp in the Belorussian forest eluding the Nazi's extensive efforts to capture them. In July 1944, after two and a half years in the woods, more than one thousand Jewish men, women and children, emerged from the woods triumphant and alive.

It is one of the most remarkable dramas of World War II -- untold until now.

In 1941, three young men -- brothers, sons of a miller -- witnessed their parents and two other siblings being led away to their eventual murders. It was a grim scene that would, of course, be repeated endlessly throughout the war. What makes this particular story of interest is how the survivors responded. Instead of running or capitulating or giving in to despair, these brothers -- Tuvia, Zus, and Asael Bielski -- did something else entirely. They fought back, waging a guerrilla war of wits and cunning against both the Nazis and the pro-Nazi sympathizers. Along the way they saved well over a thousand Jewish lives.

Using their intimate knowledge of the dense forests surrounding the Belorussian towns of Novogrudek and Lida, the Bielskis evaded the Nazis and established a hidden base camp, then set about convincing other Jews to join their ranks. When the Nazis began systematically eliminating the local Jewish populations -- more than ten thousand were killed in the first year of the Nazi occupation alone -- the Bielskis intensified their efforts, often sending fighting men into the ghettos to escort Jews to safety. As more and more Jews arrived each day, a robust community began to emerge, a "Jerusalem in the woods." They slept in camouflaged dugouts built into the ground. Lovers met, were married, and conceived children. The community boasted a synagogue, a bathhouse, a theater, and cobblers so skilled that Russian officers would wait in line to have their boots reshod.

But as its notoriety grew, so too did the Nazi efforts to capture the rugged brothers; and on several occasions they came so near to succeeding that the Bielskis had to abandon the camp and lead their massive entourage to newer, safer locations. And while some argued in favor of a smaller, more mobile unit, focused strictly on waging battle against the Germans, Tuvia Bielski was firm in his commitment to all Jews. "I'd rather save one old Jewish woman," he said, "than kill ten Nazis."

In July 1944, after two and a half years in the woods, the Bielskis learned that the Germans, overrun by the Red Army, were retreating back toward Berlin. More than one thousand Bielski Jews emerged -- alive -- on that final, triumphant exit from the woods.

The Bielski Brothers is a dramatic and heartfelt retelling of a story of the truest heroism, a historic testament to courage in the face of unspeakable adversity.

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 ...

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Book Description

In 1941 after witnessing the execution of their parents and two siblings, Tuvia, Asael, and Zus Bielski fled into the forest and sent out the word that any Jews who made it to the woods would find a safe haven there. Over time, they gathered more than 1200 Jews, who lived hidden in the Belo-Russian forest. For two and a half years, at the height of World War II, the Bielski Jews courageously fought against the Nazis and built a thriving community that included a temple, a bathhouse, and a theater. The historical role of the Bielski brothers in saving Jewish lives from the Holocaust is at least equal to that of Oskar Schindler, but their story has never been told -- until now.


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Reviews

Media Reviews

Jewish Bulletin

A wildly daring, untold tale of resistance .... inspiring and harrowing.

Dallas Morning News

An engrossing, inspiring narrative ... of an incredible victory amid an immeasurable tragedy.

People

As amazing as Schindler's List.

Washington Post

Fast-paced and deeply moving...inspiring in its representation of the heroism of ordinary people.

San Francisco Chronicle

Captivating...a welcome story of bold, determined, and successful resistance....[An] unjustly neglected story.

Chicago Tribune

A haunting book...with the grip of good fiction and the punch of hard truth.

PW Daily

[A] dramatic and heartfelt story of unbelievable courage in the face of unspeakable adversity.

Kirkus

Uplifting....A powerful recounting of a little-known story.

Library Journal - Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives

Not as scholarly as Nechama Tec's Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, this book is recommended for a general audience.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This remarkable story would make a terrific movieā€¦. A story about heroes, and Duffy does a masterful job.

Economist

A fascinating story!

Author Blurb Howard Blum, author of The Brigade
An exciting, well-paced story about honor, courage and duty. An inspiration.

Author Blurb Paula Zahn, CNN Live from the Headlines
Powerful! The strength of the human spirt shines on in [this] beautifully written book.

Reader Reviews

Roger Pence

This well-written book details the conviction of three of the Bielski brothers as they struggle to find deliverance from the Nazis. Tuvia and two of his brothers find their way, driven by an iron will and a little good luck, to help save hundreds of ...   Read More

Danielle Bielski

Finally a book that does the incredible story of my grandfather and his brothers justice.

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