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Oxford University Press, Dec 26, 2008 - History - 416 pages
2 Reviews
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. Arguing that this success would have been unthinkable without the vision of one man, Tec offers penetrating insight into the group's commander, Tuvia Bielski. Tec brings to light the untold story of Bielski's struggle as a partisan who lost his parents, wife, and two brothers to the Nazis, yet never wavered in his conviction that it was more important to save one Jew than to kill twenty Germans. She shows how, under Bielski's guidance, the partisans smuggled Jews out of heavily guarded ghettos, scouted the roads for fugitives, and led retaliatory raids against Belorussian peasants who collaborated with the Nazis. Herself a Holocaust survivor, Nechama Tec here draws on wide-ranging research and never before published interviews with surviving partisans--including Tuvia Bielski himself--to reconstruct here the poignant and unforgettable story of those who chose to fight.

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A Critically Important Chronicle of True Heroes
A review by Daniel L. Berek
The passivity of the Jews during the Holocaust is a hotly debated topic - why are the Jews of World War II Europe so
often portrayed as being passive, even being accessories to their own extermination. Much of this argument can be put to rest in reading the about underground dairies of Emmanuel Ringelblum (the Onyeg Shabbat), the lively intellectual and artistic achievements at Terezin and elsewhere, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the partisans, freedom fighters hiding in remote forests offering shelter to escaping Jews and fighting Nazi Einzatzgruppen passing through. Here, Nechama Tec, herself a hidden child during the Holocaust, describes the heroic rescue attempts by one of the larger partisan groups, one organized by the Bielski brothers in the forests of Belorussia, a group that would grow to comprise some 1,200 men, women, and children. The book covers events leading to the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe, the Russian occupation of Belorussia under Stalin, the 1939 German invasion, the organization of the Bielski brothers, Ghetto escapes (a crime under the Nazis punishable by immediate death by shooting or hanging), the network of Partisan groups, the alternation of rescue and resistance, using one's wits and knowledge of local geography to elude the enemy, the forest community of the partisan group, the fate of women, and issues of self-preservation. Nechama Tec is a reknowned and respected Holocaust scholar, having written her memoir, "Dry Tears" Story of a Lost Childhood," along with such important works as "Every Day Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family's Correspondence from Poland," "Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust," "When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland," "In the Lion's Den: The Life of Oswald Rufiesen," and a host of essays and articles. This book is at the top of the Recommended Reading list of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Web site. More than anything, this is a story of desperate hope, never lost, in the most desperate times. 


1 Before the War
2 The Russian Occupation
3 The German Invasion
4 The Beginning of the Bielski Otriad
5 Escapes from the Ghetto
6 The Partisan Network
7 Rescue or Resistance
8 Eluding the Enemy
12 The Fate of Women
13 Keeping Order
14 The End of the Otriad
15 From SelfPreservation to Rescue
Biographical Appendix
Organization of the Bielski Otriad

9 The Big Hunt
10 Building a Forest Community
11 The Emergence of New Social Arrangements

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About the author (2008)

Nechama Tec is Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, Stamford. She is the author of six books, including In the Lion's Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen, the winner of the 1990 Christopher Award, When Light Pierced the Darkness, and Dry Tears, a memoir of her experiences during the years of the Nazi occupation of Poland.

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