Tuvia Bielski "partisans"
Debunking WWII mythology with facts
In July, 2003, Harper Collins published a book by Peter Duffy "The Bielski Brothers".
The True Story of "Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Saved 1,200 jews, and Built a Village in the Forest".
Contrary to Mr. Duffy's beliefs, expressed in the interview with Paula Zahn on CNN July 8, 2003, the story of Bielski brothers wasn't forgotten. And, they weren't too busy to promote their story. This is not the first reference that appeared on the subject.
In 1993, Oxford University Press published "Defiance: the Bielski Partisans" by Nechama Tec. The account based on interviews of former partisans including Tuvia Bielski before his passing away in 1987. It includes photographs, an organizational directory of the Bielski partisan group, a biographical appendix, and a glossary of foreign terms.
Ruth Yaffe Radin wrote "Escape to the forest: Based on a true story of the Holocaust", where Tuvia Bielski and his partisans are mentioned.
There was also a documentary film written and produced by David Herman, Soma Productions in 1993.
And most of all, in 1947, Bielski himself wrote "Brigade in action" published in Israel.
In Poland the story of Bielski detachment "Jerusalem" and Zorin's "Pobieda" also hasn't been forgotten, but for the quite different reasons. Peter Duffy has never mentioned the massacre in the village of Naliboki, has he? Including it in his narrative would have made his account a completely different story. But let's start from the beginning.
The relations between the Polish underground, Polish population, and soviet partisans were complex to say the least. Understanding them is the key to the Bielski brothers' story.
History of Poland of the last 300 years proves that in times of national crisis, jews always sided with the stronger even if it meant a betrayal of their neighbors and hosts. There has never been a case of a mistaken identity. jews stuck out living their lives independently and separately in their communities in Poland for centuries. When their significant numbers championed Poland oppressor's case turning against their co-citizens and hosts it always left a feeling of bitter resentment in the common folk memory.
The most recent history is of no exception.
Conditions throughout occupied Poland varied greatly. In some areas, especially in Eastern Poland, which the Soviet Union invaded in 1939, and subsequently formally annexed, the situation was particularly volatile. During the two years occupation till the soviet-German war outbreak in 1941, the soviets carried out the ethnic cleansing of Poles considered as a potential threat to full annexation of these territories into Soviet Union. Hundred of thousands of Polish officials, officers, soldiers, policemen, teachers, churchmen, landowners, and civilians with their families were executed. Local jews were those who actively helped soviets to round them up.
Many hundreds of thousands of other Poles were sent to Siberian concentration camps or murdered. Local jews who joined and led NKVD units participated in these murders.
Under succeeding occupation, this time by Germans, Poles, had every right to be suspicious of soviet motives and to expect the soviets, at any time, to turn against them. In 1944-1950, large parts of Poland were the scenes of a massive and bloody guerrilla war of Russian communists against Polish anti-communist resistance forces. For Poles, the WWII didn't finish in 1945.
The undivided loyalty of the soviet partisans was to the Soviet Union, which had sized and annexed these territories from Poland in 1939 and intended to hold on to them after the war. The soviet partisans consisted mostly of former soviet soldiers caught behind the lines of the German offensive in June 1941, soldiers that escaped from German POW camps and number of men who were parachuted in during the German occupation to lead, organize and reinforce the soviet partisan units in the area. The field leadership was made up of NKVD officers and was subordinated to Stalin.
They treated the local population as pawns in the war against Germany and used brutal tactics, which aroused resentment and resulted in German reprisals against this population. Witness testimonies and German field reports from this period attest to the widespread plundering and terrorizing of the population by soviet partisans (Ereignismeldungen UdSSR and Meldungen aus den Besetzten Ostgebeiten, Institute of the National Memory [IPN] 1992).
Right from the beginning there was a political, ideological and territorial conflict between the two partisan forces - Polish and soviet. From the outset, the soviet partisans operating in North-Eastern Poland had as their task the undermining and destruction of the non-communist Resistance. To accomplish this they resorted to passing onto the Germans lists of members of the Polish National Resistance Organizations such as AK (Home Army) and NSZ (National Armed Forces) and other forms of collaboration with Gestapo, gendarmes and local police.
There was also forced recruitment of the local population, mostly Belorussians. soviet partisans were joined by jews who escaped from various ghettos.
According to David Melster:
The core of the first partisan detachment in the Belorussian forests consisted of escaped ghetto inmates and Red Army soldiers. jews from the Minsk ghetto made up a significant portion of nine partisan detachments (the Kutuzov, Budenny, Frunze, Parkhomenko, Shchors, 25th Anniversary of the Belorussian Republic, No. 106 and No. 406) and the first battalion of the 208th independent partisan regiment. In the Lenin brigade (Baranovichi [Baranowicze] district) 202 of the 695 fighters and commanders were jews, in Vpered 106 of 579, in Chkalow 239 of 1140 and in Novatory 48 of 126. jews composed more than one-third of the partisans in the detachments that fought in the Lida partisan zone.
In the Naliboki wood [sic] 3000 of the 20 000 partisans were jews, many of them in position of command. Incomplete data record that some 150 jews were commanders, chiefs of staff and commissars of partisan brigades and detachments.
("Belorussia" in Walter Laqueur, ed. "The Holocaust Encyclopedia", Yale University Press, 2001).
The fact that the jews, with very few exceptions, joined the soviet partisans, who were considered as the enemies by most of the local Polish population, did make them unfriendly as well. Once again jews sided with Poland's enemies.
The only non-soviet underground military organization operating in this region was the Home Army (AK), which had to fight with both, Germans and soviets.
That there were Polish retaliations and soviet counter retaliations was not surprising. Few of the Polish actions, however, were directed at jews. For the most part, jews died as members of the soviet partisan forces.
Yisrael Gutman, the director of the Center of Holocaust Research at the Yad Vashen Institute, conceded:
One should not close one's eyes to the fact that Home Army units in the Wilno area were fighting against the soviet partisans for the liberation of Poland. And that is why the jews who found themselves on the opposing side perished at the hands of Home Army soldiers - as enemies of Poland, and not as jews.
(Israel Gutman, "Uczmy się żyć razem" [tr. Let's learn to live together], Znak, Kraków, June 2000)
Although no one can deny that jews in hiding were in a difficult and indeed desperate situation, yet the simplistic and much distorted picture promoted by the Holocaust literature is far from the truth. This picture of bloodthirsty Polish partisans and farmers, who were eager to collaborate with Germans against the heroic soviet and partisans and whose only purpose for existence was to hunt the hiding jews down is simply a blatant historical lie designed to present jews as innocent victims.
Historian, Teresa Prekerowa, who was awarded by Yad Vashem for her rescue activities within the framework of the organization called Zegota (The Polish Council for Aid to jews, run by the Home Army) notes in her essay "Wojna i okupacja" [tr. War and occupation]
When the jews first started to escape from the ghettos in north-eastern Poland at the end of 1941, they encountered only small groups of soviet partisans. The Polish partisans formed later. Escapees, as more jews, especially women joined them, established camps.
Initially, the local peasants were fairly generous in providing food, even though they didn't have much left after they met the burdensome quotas imposed by the Germans.
However, as the numbers of jews in the forest grew, and demands for contingents (forced contributions) by the Germans and the soviet partisans were ever escalating, the attitude of the impoverished villagers, who were subjected to these onerous burdens, started to change.
Their first concern was to feed their own families. This had to take precedence before looking after the bands of escapees. It was also more important for them to meet quotas levied by the Germans on each Polish village. This was literally a matter of life and death for them and their families. Germans proved to treat such contingents most seriously, as they were quite capable of annihilating whole villages as a punishment for not fulfilling them. Little known in the western literature is the fact that the Germans erased from the face of Earth more than 400 Polish villages and towns.
What the villagers didn't know was that hiding in Naliboki Forest the "heroes" of Tuvia Bielski, supported by other soviet partisans, were also capable of such acts.
The virtually exclusive preoccupation of the jews hiding in forests was not partisan warfare, but scavenging for provisions. They dispatched an endless flow of armed groups into villages to rob the peasants of their food and meager belongings. The nature and range of the so called "economic" operations, for which partisans were notorious and which became their principal activities have been described in many memoirs, and even by the jews themselves. According to the widespread impression of the local population, jews were indeed the most violent and rapacious of all the forest pillagers. They had the protection of jews who had been accepted into the soviet partisans and were engaged in similar raids, of "economic" operations or actions of massive proportions. Even their soviet allies very often doubted their fighting abilities and regarded them as not much more than plunderers.
Many skirmishes took place, as the impoverished villagers increasingly opposed being systematically robbed of most of their possessions by partisans and forest dwellers. (Yitzhak Arad, "Ghetto in flames", p. 457). The close association of the groups with the soviet partisans also marked them as pro communist and anti-Polish in the eyes of the local population.
Yet, another reason the peasants hesitated any contacts with people from the forest was because of punitive measures taken by the Germans. Many villages were burned to the ground for their perceived support of the partisans. Their inhabitants were shot or rounded up for slave labor. An assassination or insignificant sabotage operations, like tearing up a railroad track that was promptly rebuilt, caused Germans to extract punishment on the local population. Such was the case near the town of Nowe Święciany, where some 1500 Poles were executed by the Germans and Lithuanian police in May 1942. Simply the price of 1500 Polish lives for three German lives - two soldiers and one officer - was far too high to pay. But, the soviet and partisans could not care less. They risked nothing. It was not their or their co-patriot's lives, it was just Polish peasants.
This brings us back to the subject of Tuvia Bielski and his "heroes".
Part II of Tuvia Bielski's "heroes"
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