“ Defiance ”
 
            There are a lot of angles to look back at the Holocaust, the latest being an almost- whimsical kind of fable called “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”  How likely would it have been for the son of the German commandant to befriend a little Jewish boy behind the barbed wire?  Well, at least we have the fresh reminder of that horrific tragedy, which would be unspeakable, except that would be the one way to dishonor it the most:  to not speak about it.  And who would have guessed that we might develop some sympathy for a prison camp guard, through the recently-released film “The Reader”?  Or a German officer, through the true story of “Valkyrie”?
            One angle rarely presented is an account of some Jews actually banding together to fight back.  It really happened in Byelorussia , kind of by accident.  Three Polish brothers named Bielski lost their parents and the rest of the family, not directly to the Gestapo, but to local police hired as collaborators, who would receive payment for every Jew rounded up for the slaughter.  It was 1941, so they headed east, toward the Russian front.  They weren’t trained as soldiers.  The youngest, Asael (Jamie Bell), was still a teenage boy.  But the middle brother, Zus (Liev Schreiber), joined the Russian militia, something between regular Army and underground resistance.  The oldest, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), found himself taking in stragglers into his hideaway in the woods, and word spread quickly among the ragged, hunted locals---expatriates, refugees, fugitives.  All had suffered loss, and all knew that without the protection of their little enclave, they would have long since been sent to the camps, never to return. 
            The first order of business, of course, was survival.  The younger men at first collected some firearms from some older farmers who wanted to quietly help their cause.  Then, they set a few small ambushes of isolated German soldiers, in order to acquire some “real” weapons.  They had to post sentries, and they had to requisition foodstuffs from the local farmers, trying to confine their appropriations to those whom they thought could better afford the “contribution” to their cause.  Tuvia found himself, like Moses, heading up a haunted band of fugitives who weren’t necessarily a community.  They argued over the division of meager resources.  They questioned his leadership.  Some declared him to be God’s very blessing to them, others thought him merely power-hungry, and vain and pompous, besides.  He declared that there were to be no small children, because they could not care for them, and there was to be no pregnancy, but what if that does happen?  It was Passover every day---they had to be ready to drop what they were doing and run at any moment, and try to set up a sacrificial rear guard to cover their escape from the incessant German patrols.  The winters were harsh, and they were beset with illness and disease, especially among the older and the weaker among them.  The women were taught to fight.& nbsp; And yes, there was such a thing as a “camp wife”---- because everybody knew that the lives they left behind were all in the past, because the others were just no longer there.
            Yes, the viewer has to put up with subtitles, and determined attempts by English natives to speak phonetically in another language, while trying on different accents with the English.  But there’s enough chaos, confusion, hardship, and stress to make this little account feel very real.  Apparently the two older brothers later immigrated to New York , and were quiet about their story until now.  But it’s worth hearing. 
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      What’s your favorite “freedom fighter” story?  Your least favorite?
2)      Could a Fascist, racist government like the Nazis happen again, in our time?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas