Read the Foreword
Writer and director Edward Zwick reveals the challenges and personal significance of making a film adaptation of Nechama Tec's Defiance. Among his extensive film credits, Zwick is best known for his direction of Blood Diamond and The Last Samaurai.
An inevitable rite of passage in any Jewish child’s informal initiation to adulthood is to study, with grim fascination, the grainy, out-of-focus images of hollow-eyed survivors in striped pajamas, the amateur photos of corpses piled high in freshly dug pits, or possibly the 16 mm handheld GI footage of living skeletons clinging to barbed wire during the liberation of the camps. Such grisly iconography of passivity and victimization was, during my childhood, and probably is still today, not only an article of faith, but also a source of secret shame. As an assimilated suburban kid growing up in the Midwest, I had thrilled to World War II stories about John Kennedy and PT 109 (Cliff Robertson in the movie version), the leatherneck marines at Guadalcanal (John Wayne), the flying fortresses over Germany (Gregory Peck), and so many more. In feeble contrast, Jewish heroes were the ancient biblical warriors evoked by uninspired Sunday school teachers--Bar Kochba and Judah Macabee wielding spears and jawbones, or young David with his little slingshot.
So when my friend and collaborator, Clay Frohman, came to me with a book called Defiance, I was skeptical. "Not another Holocaust movie," I said. What was to be accomplished, I asked myself, in telling yet another story of familiar and unspeakable horror, especially when an entire canon of literature, not to mention films both documentary and fiction, have already dramatized it in the most exacting and harrowing detail? What’s more, the greatest historians and philosophers of our time have devoted entire careers to plumbing the roots and magnitude of its evil. What could I possibly add?
But Clay was insistent. Here, he said, was something fresh and utterly provocative. And so, somewhat grudgingly, I plunged into Nechama’s Tec’s remarkable book and found myself deeply moved. That was ten years ago. And the feelings I had upon that first reading have only grown stronger with time. To read of the Bielski brothers and their fight to create a safe haven in the midst of a hell-on-earth evokes in me something utterly primitive and deeply personal, a roiling wave of fear, awe, humility, and admiration. And outrage, too--that such a story was not better known.
Here, clutching captured Schmeisser submachine guns and "potatomasher" grenades, were Jewish fighters whose deeds were as stirring and brave as any I had ever encountered. And what’s more, it was all true. In an age when the term "hero" has been so overused as to become meaningless, the Bielskis remind us that real heroism is not the stuff of comic books. Rather, it is a set of decisions, sometimes impulsive, often made by simple men of whom nothing of the sort could ever have been expected. Their story is not simply one of courage or fortitude in the face of adversity; it includes any number of daunting moral decisions--whether to seek vengeance or to rescue, how to re-create a sense of community among those who have lost everything, how to maintain hope when all seems forsaken. Read more
Santa Monica, Calif., 2008
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.