The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Saved 1,200 Jews, and Built a Village in the Forest


Holocaust-related history, more uplifting than most.

Freelance writer Duffy stumbled upon a stray reference to “Forest Jews” while performing a random online search. His curiosity about this mysterious term led to a New York Times story in 2000, now this book. The eponymous brothers are Tuvia, Asael, and Zus Bielski, all born before WWI to the only Jewish family in Stankevich, western Belarus. Once a dominion of czarist Russia, the village became part of Poland after 1918, but the Soviet Union governed following the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939. The intense drama of Duffy's narrative begins with Nazi German troops over-running the village in 1941. The Bielskis’ parents were killed, as were numerous other relatives; survivors were placed in a ghetto to serve as slave labor for the Nazis. Tuvia, Asael, and Zus broke out and helped others to follow. They built a rugged but survivable life in a nearby dense forest, obtaining weapons however possible to protect the nascent Jewish settlement and to conduct guerilla raids against Nazi forces. The day-in, day-out account of the next four years is an often unbearably intense chronicle of horror and courage. A novel telling a similar story would almost certainly be dismissed as outlandish, but Duffy's copious endnotes convincingly document the saga’s reality. All three brothers survived the forest years, as did and many of those they helped. Asael, conscripted into the Soviet army, died fighting German troops in February 1945. Tuvia and Zus made it to Israel with their wives, later settling in the US. Tuvia died in 1987, Zus in 1996, but Duffy had access to their widows and other relatives and uses those recollections wisely. Only the vast array of names, dates, and battles are sometimes difficult to assimilate.

A powerful recounting of a little-known story.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-621074-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2003


NonfictionLENINGRAD by Anna Reid
by Anna Reid