Reviewer Janet Walker: Janet is the author of Colour To Die For, first of the Fee Weston Mystery Series. Janet lives in Australia and when she is not writing about P.I. Fee Weston's fight for truth, justice and a livable cash flow, she writes articles for magazines and fund raises for Australia's wildlife carers - heroes of the bush. For more about Janet and Fee visit Janet's WEBSITE
Follow Here To Purchase Heroism in the Forest: The Jewish Partisans of Belarus
Author: Zeev Barmatz
Publisher : Moshe Alon
Heroism In The Forest is not a work of great literary merit, it is though, a work of great humanity; a testament to the suffering and bravery of Jewish men, women and children whose villages were overrun by the German Army’s advance into Soviet Russia in the area now known as Belarus during WWII.
It is also a testimony to the bestiality and greed of the German forces as they moved Jewish people from villages where they had lived for generations to herd them into overcrowded ghettoes where starvation, transportation to a labour camp or death by firing squad was the most likely outcome.
As Jewish families marched to internment in ghettoes, German soldiers and Russian neighbours stole their possessions – heartbreaking for families to watch as people they had lived alongside for years ransacked their homes – incomprehensible as well. During WWII the German Army treated Russian people very badly; using civilians to check areas for mines resulted in horrific injuries and deaths in local communities. Why not then join with Jews against the common enemy? The answer lies in Russia’s centuries old anti-semitism; government sanctioned raids/pogroms on villages and unfair laws which restricted education, employment and living areas for Russian Jews.
Author, Zeev Barmatz’s intention in Heroism in the Forest is to dispel the myth that Jews did not fight back during the years 1941-45 but allowed themselves to be dispossessed and passively marched to their deaths. Barmatz concentrates on the Jewish ghettoes which were set up around the densely treed Belarus forests, presenting facts and figures along with survivor accounts of the Jewish resistance movements which were formed to harry and halt the German Army’s advance into Russian territory and importantly, rescue Jews from starvation and death in the ghettoes.
The true stories of life in the German run ghettoes and the forming of the partisan units are both tragic and awe-inspiring. There is a great deal of sadness in the realization that some Jewish village leaders did not accept the expressed German intention of religious genocide and thought that if they offered money or waited for a miracle they would be spared. Money doesn’t last forever and miracles are hard to come by, entire Jewish populations of some Belarus villages were cold bloodedly slaughtered.
These murderous events hardened the resolve of Jews to escape the ghettoes and create partisan camps in the forest. It’s fair to say some Russian farmer’s did provide support (not nearly enough) and with a small amount of help, little food or weapons and enormous amounts of courage, Jewish villagers succeeded in forming, deep within the forests, fighting communities that became a threat to German patrols stationed in the area. They also tracked and killed Russians and Lithuanian soldiers who for a sack of potatoes or German patronage betrayed or killed Jews escaping from the ghettoes to join the resistance.
There were other partisan groups in the forests, made up of Russian soldiers cut off from their units by the speed of the German advance and local villagers. Jewish partisans were wary of these groups with good reason; they often killed Jews who had escaped the ghettoes to join the forest fighters. Once again: incomprehensible. Incredible to believe that prejudice can run so deep that ridding the area of Jews was as welcome in some communities as the defeat of the German occupation forces.
Despite the betrayal of Russian partisans and the certain knowledge that capture by a German patrol meant torture and death, Jewish partisan groups flourished, attacking German positions and rescuing many Jews from imprisonment and death. The Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus and Asael, formed a particularly successful forest camp and are credited with saving many Jewish lives.
Women and children joined the forest groups – the children acting as messengers between the partisans and the ghettoes. Barmatz acknowledges the importance of Jewish women in the partisan movement – the backbone of the camps, they cooked, sewed, cared for the children and elderly, and created a welcoming environment for the men and boys returning from battle.
In writing Heroism in the Forest, Zeeve Barmatz has recorded the true story of Jewish partisans who lived, worked and fought during WWII in the forests of Belarus. In so doing, he acknowledges and honours the courage and indomitable spirit of those who were trapped where the light of human goodness rarely shone. To say the actions of the partisans were awe-inspiring is not nearly enough – read the stories and find out.