This is the riveting history of one such group: a forest community numbering more than 1,200 that carried out the largest armed rescue operation of Jews by Jews in World War II. Nechama Tec reconstructs the amazing details of how these men and women of all ages - hungry, largely unarmed, and exposed to harsh winter weather - managed not only to survive but to take on the dual role of fighters and rescuers. Under the guidance of their charismatic leader, Tuvia Bielski, they smuggled Jews out of heavily guarded ghettos, led retaliatory raids against Nazi collaborators, and offered protection to all Jewish fugitives who could find their way to them.
©1993 Nechama Tec; (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"One of the most elevating and inspiring stories in the chronicle of death and despair that is the Holocaust....an accomplished and startling work of Holocaust documentation." (Los Angeles Times)
"An exciting story of rescuers and fighters - a story that should have been documented years ago....Defiance will no doubt engender further interest in the subject of Jewish partisan activity." (Social Education)
This is a brilliant social history of a Jewish resistance movement in Belarus and Eastern Poland. It focusses on the Bielski partisan group lead by the three Bielski brothers.
What made this partisan unit different from the others active in the area was the fact A) they were Jewish and B) focused much more on saving lives than on attacking the Germans. Their efforts eventually resulted in the saving of more than 1,000 Jews.
The book is a standard social history that tackles its subject in a thematic rather than a narrative style. This makes the book less accessible. This is not a piece of popular history but is intended to be read by scholars who have made a study of the Holocaust or the Jews. The result is that the book can be hard to follow at times as it does not strictly follow a chronological format. Additionally, the book seems repetitive as the author supported his assertions with a large number of examples many of which are very similar.
This is a stunning piece of scholarship with the information presented logically and clearly in a remarkably evenhanded manner. This is done at the expense of readability and accessibility. Therefore, I would not recommend this book to the casual reader but to the serious student of the subject.
The good part of this book is that it is uplifting. It describes real people in a practically impossible situation who endure and survive by relying upon ancient moral principles (although there are several morally ambiguous incidents). The bad part is that it is organized and largely written as an academic paper. It is not narrative. That is, it doesn't tell a story in a chronological manner but rather is organized on a thematic basis. This results in two problems: 1) there is a great deal of repetition and 2) the great inspirational adventure story this should be is hidden behind this academic objectivity. You have to squint to see a glimpse of the heroism and the humanity of these people.
The raw material for this story is just riveting, which makes the flaws in the narrative that much more frustrating. I particularly found the discussion of some of the difficult moral choices the partisans had to make to be compelling reading.
Let me also say, I remember well being in 8th grade and reading Night by Elie Wiesel and feeling, forgive me if this sounds like blaming the victim, but feeling angry with the passivity of those who went into the gas chambers without a struggle. This book not only shows another side of the story, but it provides a very convincing, and heart-tugging discussion of why some didn't resist.
My only critique is that it is written more as research paper than as a story. For example, Chapter 11 is entitled (paraphrasing) "The Formation of New Social Structures", and discusses, well, social structures among the Bielski partisans. It seems to me a more inventive author would have woven that in to a narrative.
Certainly, this is a book I heartily recommend. It is easy to say "we must never forget", but a book like this is important to ensuring that we consciously remember the holocaust, rather than simply have it locked in the recesses of long term memory.
Their story was amazing and I'm so happy this happened and that this author gave voice to the tuvia's story.
If you aren't a history buff, or are expecting the excitement of the movie, then this is not the book for you. I read this so that I might understand the history behind the movie, and this book delivers. I thought the narrator was perfect for this project, as he was born in Poland, which is the setting of this story.
At points the book seemed dry because I was unfamiliar with location names, but I was able to get back into it and never considered giving up on it.
There are many heroes in this story who are shown in their most delineating feats during their daily struggle to keep themselves and their charges alive in their secret community in the deep woods of Poland.
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