Holocaust tales live in son


POSTED: Thursday, December 17, 2009

Zus Bielski did well for himself in the United States, thanks to his instinct for helping others. Growing up in Poland, then emigrating from Israel after World War II, he knew no English and could only get work pumping gas in a New York borough. One night, he saw an Irish truck driver assaulted by a group of toughs, and he waded right in.

Turned out the truck driver owned a chain of gas stations. He offered Bielski a position, and within a few years Bielski had his own business. Life was good. Life was safe.

One day, Bielski and son Zvi hopped into the car to run an errand. Zvi pestered his father with questions about the war. Did he ever see any dead bodies?

Zus looked at Zvi. “;Yes. Look at both sides of the street. Imagine bodies, dead friends and relatives, lining the sidewalks, all the way to the store.”;

The store, Zvi recalls, was still more than five miles away.

The name Bielski, it turns out, was famous among survivors of the Holocaust. Zus Bielski and brothers Tuvia, Aron and Asael not only escaped the camps, they created the largest known resistance force to counter Nazi atrocities, saving hundreds of Jews and giving hope to thousands more.

“;Largest known”; because, Zvi Bielski notes, some of the other partisan groups were completely wiped out. No survivors, Jewish or otherwise. That was the Nazi plan, after all.

To survive, the brothers became ruthless and tough but, above all, logical and organized. They did not simply hide in the trackless forests of Belorussia; they created shtetls, complete with kitchens, synagogues, schools and even a theater, venturing forth to harry the Germans and take in refugees.





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“;Defiance,”; a major studio film released last year, told the story of the brothers Bielski. Suddenly, sons like Zvi were being invited to tell the story, secondhand as it were but still a link to a past both largely unknown and worth remembering.

Zvi Bielski will share his memories for a Honolulu audience next week.

One memory: They were walking through Central Park, and a mounted policeman was having trouble with his horse. The animal was spooked and bucking, wild-eyed. Zus Bielski — whom Zvi had never seen anywhere near a horse — walked up and placed his hand on the animal's snout. It instantly calmed down. And Zvi remembered stories told by visitors to the Bielski home about how they were lost in the dark forests, pursued by Nazis, when suddenly mighty men on horseback would materialize and lead them to safety — the Bielski brothers.

“;People talked to my dad all the time about making a movie. He'd say, 'Come in, have a cup, talk,'”; said Zvi Bielski. “;He thought it was a story worth telling, but he didn't, you know, want to brag. Then he died, 1995, and the New York Times obituary summed it all up in a few paragraphs.”;

Filmmaker Edward Zwick, who specializes in military-themed pictures dealing with honor, read the obituary and became determined to make a movie about the Bielskis. Daniel Craig was cast as Tuvia.

“;James Bond was playing my uncle!”; said Bielski. “;Then I heard that Liev Schreiber was playing my father. I went, 'Liev who?' Guess I don't see that many movies.”;

Friends assured him that Schreiber was a fine actor, and Bielski says that he completely captured both the look and the good-natured but rough-and-ready mannerisms of his father.

“;They were farm kids, my father and uncles,”; said Bielski. “;They could ride, they could shoot, they could survive in the woods. They were the Polish Wild Bunch. Big hearts and ferocious fighters. They resisted the Nazis and they gave people hope. You can't measure that.

“;We know they saved 1,256 Jews in the forest, mostly women and children and old folks, but there were others who were inspired by their example, to fight back, to survive, to help others. I'm so proud of that.”;