Film Discussion of: The Bielski Brothers: Jerusalem in the Woods

Saratoga Jewish Community Arts to host Zoom discussion of ‘The Bielski Brothers: Jerusalem in the Woods’ October 13

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, with a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York and sponsorship of Temple Sinai, presents a zoom discussion at 7 p.m. on October 13 of The Bielski Brothers: Jerusalem in the Woods, a documentary by filmmaker Sharon Rennert, granddaughter of one brother, Tuvia Bielski.

There are several films and books about Jewish partisans in World War II, new ones come out every few years, and at least one commercial film (Defiance} addresses the story of the Bielski Brothers.

This production is distinct, as it is a historical film told by the third generation of the Bielskis from an exceptionally poignant and intimate perspective that entertains as well as enlightens.

The brothers, Tuvia, Asael, Zus, and Aron Bielski, were four of 12 children born to a miller and his wife in a rural village of Belarus. The only Jews in a small community, they had connections within and outside of the Jewish community and quickly learned how to look after themselves.

“The communal life that was constructed by the members of the camp suggests the importance of community and solidarity for people’s mental and spiritual survival,” says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of the SJCA series, “even in the face of surrounding brutality and allows them to retain humanity, morality, and a Jewish way of life.”

Following the German invasion in June of 1941, in which tens of thousands of Jews in the region, including the parents and other relatives of the brothers, were murdered.

Those the Germans did not kill were confined to ghettoes until 1943-1943, when they liquidated the ghettos and slaughtered most of the remaining inhabitants. The brothers sought refuge in the woods where they had spent time as children. With the help of non-Jewish friends, they began to collect guns to protect themselves.

As the persecution of Jews increased, the small group gathered by the brothers faced a dilemma – should they continue to live as a tight-knit group or were they obligated to shelter greater numbers of other Jews? In the end, they decided they couldn’t sit idle while their people were being slaughtered.

By autumn of 1942, the Bielski group had grown to include nearly 100 members. While their focus was saving the lives of fellow Jews, the brothers moved quickly to build a fighting force to strike back against the Nazis and their supporters.

As the size of the unit increased yet again, they sought better protection from the harsh winter. They dug living quarters in the ground. They were soon watching over nearly 800 Jews. The camp was attacked by German forces and the entire group had to escape deep into the forest where they began work on a new camp. Completed in November 1943, it became a real village in the forest with a blacksmith forge horse-powered mill, bakery, school, etc.

The partisan group was rescued by the Red army in July of 1944 with 1,200 members, making it the largest partisan group in the Soviet Union and all German-occupied territory. It was one of the leading rescues of Jews by fellow Jews during WWII.

The ideology of the Bielski Brothers was that… “it is more important to save Jews than to kill Germans.”

The Bielski Brothers: Jerusalem in the Woods, produced for the History Channel, can be seen on a number of streaming services with subscriptions and in some library services. The zoom discussion is scheduled for Thursday, October 13, at 7 p.m.. Registration is required at sjca.sjcf@gmail.com.

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