Tuvia Bielski

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Tuvia Bielski
Tuvia Bielski .jpg
Born (1906-05-08)May 8, 1906
Stankiewicze, near Novogrudok, Russian Empire (Now Belarus)
Died June 12, 1987(1987-06-12) (aged 81)
United States
Known for Bielski partisans
Religion Judaism
Parent(s) David and Beila Bielski
Relatives Asael Bielski, brother
Alexander Zeisal Bielski, brother
Aron Bielski, brother

Tuvia Bielski (May 8, 1906 – June 12, 1987) was the leader of the partisan group, the Bielski partisans, who were situated in the Naliboki forest in pre-war Poland (now Western Belarus) during World War II.


Tuvia grew up in the only Polish Jewish family in Stankiewicze. The small village in Eastern Poland (now Western Belarus) is located between towns of Lida and Navahrudak, both of which housed Jewish ghettoes during World War II.

Tuvia was the son of David and Beila Bielski, who had twelve children: ten boys and two girls. Tuvia was the third eldest. His brothers Asael, Alexander ("Zus") and Aron were later to become members of his partisan group.

During the First World War, Bielski served as an interpreter for the Imperial German Army, which were occupying the western territories of the Russian Empire. Already a speaker of Yiddish, he learned to speak the German language from these men and remembered it all his life.[citation needed] In 1927, he was recruited into the Polish Army, where he eventually became a corporal in the 30th Infantry Battalion.[citation needed] After completing his military service, Tuvia returned home. In an effort to add to his family's income, he rented another mill. This income was still inadequate, so in 1929, at the age of 23, he married an older woman named Rifka who owned a general store and a large house. The couple lived in the nearby small town of Subotniki.[1]

During the Soviet occupation in 1939, Tuvia feared that he would be arrested by the NKVD due to his "bourgeois capitalist" occupation, so he moved to Lida.[2][1] Before Tuvia left Subotniki he urged his wife, Rifka, to join him in the move to Lida. She refused.

In Soviet-controlled Lida, Tuvia met and fell in love with another woman named Sonia. The love affair became serious. In late 1939, Tuvia divorced his wife, Rifka.[3] He married Sonia, though they were not "officially" married due to wartime conditions.[4]

World War II[edit]

When Operation Barbarossa broke out, Tuvia, Zus, and Asael were called up by their army units to fight against the Nazi German occupiers. Tuvia recalls: "Suddenly about fifty planes (Luftwaffe) flew over the town dropping incendiary bombs. In a very few minutes the entire place was on fire. The commander called us in, ordered us to leave the burning town and regroup in a forest about five kilometers from there. We were to continue working. We carried out his command but soon after we began our job in the forest another wave of planes flew over the area and set the woods on fire. The commander called us in and said: 'Friends, you are on your own!'"[5] After the units disbanded, the Bielski brothers fled to Stankiewicze, where their parents lived. In early July 1941, a German army unit arrived in Stankiewicze and Jewish residents were moved to a ghetto in Nowogródek. The four Bielski brothers managed to flee to the nearby forest after their parents and other family members were killed in the ghetto in August 1941.[citation needed]

Bielski partisans[edit]

Main article: Bielski partisans

During World War II, Tuvia Bielski led a group of Jewish refugees which saved more than 1,200 Jews by hiding them in forests. Although always hunted by Nazis, Bielski's group continued to grow. They lived in the forests for over two years, and in their camp, they built a school, a hospital, and a nursery. As leader of the Bielski partisans, his aim was not to attack railroads and roads that the German Nazis were using as supply routes,[citation needed] although there were some such attacks,[citation needed] but to save Jews, who were under persecution from the Nazis during the Holocaust.[6]

Later life[edit]

After the war, Tuvia was offered a high position[citation needed] in the Israel Defense Forces for his great acts of leadership, but he declined the offer, to instead run a small trucking firm with his brother Zus in New York City for 30 years, until his death in 1987. He married Lilka, another Jewish escapee; they remained married for the remainder of their lives. They had three children: sons Michael and Robert, and daughter Ruth, and nine grandchildren: three grandsons (Brendon, Jordan, and Taylor) and six granddaughters (Sharon, Ariel, twins Talia and Vanessa and twins Tori and Sarah). Sharon (Rennert) made a documentary about her family called In Our Hands: The Legacy of the Bielski Partisans.[7]


Daniel Craig portrayed Tuvia in the film Defiance (2008), which has been criticised in Poland due to its omission of the alleged involvement of the Bielski group in a massacre of Polish civilians conducted by Soviet-aligned partisans in Naliboki.[8][9] The Naliboki massacre was the subject of an official inquiry by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance's Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation. The investigation found no conclusive evidence linking the Bielski group to the crime. However, the involvement of Bielski's group is still considered to be one of the possibilities in the course of the investigation.[10]


  1. ^ a b Tec, Nechama (1993). Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0-19-509390-9. 
  2. ^ http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=sh&GRid=18496589
  3. ^ Tec, Nechama (1993). Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Oxford University Press US. p. 22. ISBN 0-19-509390-9. 
  4. ^ Tec, Nechama (1993). Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Oxford University Press US. p. 300 - Tuvia refers to Sonia as his wife. Lilka does not think that Tuvia and Sonia were officially married. Lilka Bielski, personal interview in 1987. ISBN 0-19-509390-9. 
  5. ^ Tec, Nechama (1993). Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Oxford University Press US. pp. 25–26. ISBN 0-19-509390-9. 
  6. ^ Tec,Nechmana (1993)Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, New York: Oxford University Press, quoted in Snyder, Timothy (2010)Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, London: Vintage Books.ISBN 9780099551799.
  7. ^ Children of the Otriad, (c) 2008 Paramount Pictures Corporation, included with special features on the 2008 DVD Defiance
  8. ^ http://www.rp.pl/artykul/153227,251214_Bohater_w_cieniu_zbrodni_.html
  9. ^ http://www.rp.pl/artykul/61991,256256_Bielski__w_puszczy__niedomowien.html
  10. ^ http://www.ipn.gov.pl/portal/pl/245/7609/Komunikat_dot_sledztwa_w_sprawie_zbrodni_popelnionych_przez_partyzantow_sowiecki.html

External links[edit]