The Bielski Brothers

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

David and Beyle Bielski lived with their large family and ran a mill in the tiny Belorussian village of Stankevich, where they were the only Jews. When the Nazis occupied the region, three of the Bielski brothers—Tuvia, Asael, and Zus—fled to the Naliboki Puscha (puscha means deep forest) east of the main cities of Lida and Novogrudek, encouraging other Jews to follow them.

Tuvia proved to be a remarkable leader. Once, when his group was pursued closely by Germans intent on murdering them, he led them through a swamp to safety on an island. As Jews were being slaughtered, others managed to escape with the help of a few brave Poles, and the fugitives evolved into a surprisingly self-sustaining community, with blacksmiths, tailors, and other tradesmen, even a talented gunsmith. They faced enemies on all sides: besides the constant menace of Nazi patrols, many Polish peasants could not be trusted, and when the Bielskis’ unit was forcibly brought under Soviet control Tuvia struggled diplomatically to maintain some independence and stand up to oppressive Communist discipline and considerable anti-Semitism. By the time that Tuvia gave his farewell speech on July 10, 1944, the survivors in the puscha numbered over twelve hundred.

After the fighting subsided in the Novogrudek area, Asael was drafted into the Red Army and died in combat near Marienburg. Tuvia, Zus, and a younger brother, Aron, made their way to Palestine and eventually to Brooklyn with their wives. Asael’s widow, Haya, settled in Israel with their daughter. On December 6, 1986, Tuvia was feted in a grand ceremony in the ballroom of the New York Hilton. He died in 1987 and Zus in 1995.