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Defiance: The Bielski Partisans Paperback – December 8, 1994

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Editorial Reviews Review

The prevailing image of European Jews during the Holocaust is one of helpless victims, but in fact many Jews struggled against the terrors of the Third Reich. In Defiance, Nechama Tec offers a riveting history of one such group, a forest community in western Belorussia that would number more than 1,200 Jews by 1944--the largest armed rescue operation of Jews by Jews in World War II. Tec reveals that this extraordinary community included both men and women, some with weapons, but mostly unarmed, ranging from infants to the elderly. She reconstructs for the first time the amazing details of how these partisans and their families--hungry, exposed to the harsh winter weather--managed not only to survive, but to offer protection to all Jewish fugitives who could find their way to them.

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

Edward Zwick
Santa Monica, Calif., 2008

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Tec ( When Light Pierced the Darkness ) relates the suspenseful and inspiring story of Jewish partisans who fought the Germans from their base in the Nalibocka Forest in Belorussia. Their leader, Tuvia Bielski, was an uneducated man who--though he had lost his parents, brothers and wife to the Germans--put efforts to preserve the lives of Jews above revenge. The partisans worked to rescue Jews in hiding and to smuggle Jews out of nearby ghettos, but also to punish Jewish collaborators. By the end of the war, Bielski had gathered more than 1200 Jews of all ages into the forest. That they suffered a loss of "only" 5% is remarkable, given that their refuge was virtually surrounded by Germans. Bielski died in 1987 and was buried in Jerusalem in a ceremony reserved for Israel's national heroes. Photos.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 8, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195093909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195093902
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,114,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 106 people found the following review helpful By M. Sean Silk on April 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
In her book, "Defiance: The Bielski Partisans", Nechama Tec depicts an amazing tale of Jewish resistance and rescue on the eastern front during World War II. At the pith of this movement was one Tuvia Bielski, the commander of the large Jewish partisan outfit that roamed the Belorussian woods, constantly trying to avoid contact with the Germans. Tuvia, along with his brothers Asael and Zus were responsible for the salvation of over 1200 Jews, many of whom were elderly, female, or juvenile. Taking in such refugees in an extremely volatile environment was a huge risk. Without Tuvia's willingness, or determination to take on such risks, many of these people would have otherwise perished to the Nazi barbarity that was ubiquitous in the region. As a professor of sociology, the author Nechama Tec offers a unique perspective on this historical phenomenon. Her expertise brings into focus the social dynamic of partisan camps in World War II.

Rather than succumb to the popularly accepted view that Jews were passive victims who simply laid down and allowed the Nazi aggressors to do their bidding during the Holocaust, Tec attempts to elucidate the under-documented, untold side of the story. That is, despite the widespread annihilation and extermination that Jewish citizens faced in Europe, there were pockets of resistance to the Nazi menace that deserve laudatory recognition. Tec takes the sentiment that there is a necessity to educate people on the unmentioned and tries to fill in the gap she believes is left by mainstream historians. Her effort to do so indeed deserves the very same laudatory recognition that she sets out to bestow upon the Bielski partisans.
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76 of 80 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 9, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I am the the son of two of the members of the Bielski Partisans. For many years my parents would not talk about their role in the war. However, since getting this book, they have become more responsive to my questioning. Is there anyway that i can in touch with the author to find out more information? I guess, because of my background, I've always been interested in this period. I could not put this book down. As a result of reading this book, I've gotten a hold of the other books by Mrs Tec. They are just as riveting as Defiance.
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105 of 113 people found the following review helpful By ALAN BELL on November 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Being the son of Aron Bielski the youngest of the 12 Bielski children I must say Ms.Tec did a wonderful and accurate job.Since Defiance was published there has been a great amonut interset raised on the Bielski Brothers.The book is informative and suspensful, it tell stories previously only known to the family and members of The Bielski Brigrade.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
In January, a movie called "Defiance" opens. The director is Edward Zwick, who did Glory, Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai; back in the day, he was one of the creators of thirtysomething.

Zwick likes big heroic themes, and he has one here, with two heroic actors --- Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber --- in the leading roles. I've read the book that best tells the story behind the film. I've watched the preview. And although this movie has been much postponed and is finally coming out in a season when studios dump their most troubled product, I fully expect to endure two hours of convulsive sobbing on opening day.

Why the extreme emotion? This is a Holocaust story --- and what's more extreme than a madman killing six million Jews, gypsies, Catholics and homosexuals? But we've endured so many Holocaust stories, we're drained. What could possibly grab us by the lapels and wring out fresh tears?

Jews saving themselves.

Jews saving themselves? No way. Weren't the only significant efforts to save Jews led by one bad Christian --- the story told in Steven Spielberg's film, Schindler's List --- and by many better ones, like the French villagers in Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed? With the exception of rare individuals like Viktor Frankl --- who survived the concentration camps to write Man's Search for Meaning --- I'm sure I'm not the only one here who has long believed that almost all the Jews killed by Hitler went meekly to their deaths. And that's not to call them cowards. It was folly to resist, so very few did. Nobility lay in a scrap of bread saved for a child, a prayer on the way to the gas chamber. It did not consist of a martyrdom that inflamed the Germans and caused more Jews to die.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By rebelmomof2 VINE VOICE on June 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
This was among the six books my dad loaned me recently. It's about time there is a book about Jews saving other Jews! This book is a deep and thorough study of the partisans who have managed to escape the ghettos, camps and imprisonment and formed a group to survive till the war was over. It is an insightful look into a history of a group of people that one do not hear much of.

The author has relied heavily on personal interviews ~~ which definitely made this book interesting. However, this book was either translated choppily or written choppily because it was very hard to follow in some cases ~~ as the stories skipped back and forth and it got confusing following it. That is why I rated this a three ~~ I literally had to skip chapters because it was repetitive and sometimes, too drawn out. It was not written in a way to capture your attention ~~ if you have an imagination, this book only serves to enhance it because the stories are enlightening, terrible and wonderful ~~ depending on what it is. And after drawing it out for several hundred pages, the ending was rather chopped.

It is about time though that the world hears of Jews saving other Jews during this horrible blight on history. I think the stories are enlightening and provoking. The stories all rate a five star ~~ as they were personal and sometimes, intimate. The three Bielski brothers endured a lot to keep the Jews from starving to death as well as keeping order in a camp filled with women, children and men.

If you are studying the Holocaust and the Jews, please read this book. In spite of its' choppiness, it is still a good read and a good lesson to be learned. Everyone should read this and remember those who have fought to stay alive in that terrible time.

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