During a time of year normally reserved for festivity and celebration, local residents gathered to remember the heroic efforts of one group during the Holocaust.
Zvi Bielski spoke to an audience at the (EMJC) on Dec. 5 about the bravery his father and uncles, Zus, Tuvia and Asael, respectively -- better known as the Bielski brothers -- exhibited during World War II in the forests of Belarus. They were the leaders of the biggest armed Jewish resistance in the war. Their efforts were documented in the 2008 movie Defiance.
“The idea of making the movie and getting the story out was so people would know the story,” he said. “There is a perception of the Holocaust, that Jews in particular did not fight back, which is completely not true. This is a classic example.”
There were approximately 300 people in attendance at the event. With a few Holocaust survivors in the room, the presentation from Bielski was especially poignant to many.
Bielski explained that when the Nazis came to his father’s village, the brothers did not submit to them. Rather, he said, they decided to go into the woods. By the time they left the forest, the group had 1,250 people living with them.
"21,806 Jews are alive today all over the world from the original 1,250 that left the woods at the end of the war,” he said. "…The Bielski group was the largest rescue of Jews by Jews in World War II. There were no other groups that did what the Bielskis did."
“Three ordinary people had an unbelievable effect on the world,” he added.
The lecture was part of the South Shore Sisterhoods’ -- which is composed of Sisterhood organizations from eight area temples -- “Evening of Learning.” Windy Cutler, a member of EMJC’s program committee, said that they find a speaker or program of interest to all of the groups -- something that is generally of Jewish nature -- for the event.
Cutler said that this lecture was particularly important during the holiday season because it addressed reclaiming oneself, as well as reaffirming faith and belief in people.
“This shows that somebody did something for others where [they] had nothing to gain,” she continued.
“Hanukah is a holiday of freedom,” said Dee Greenberg, Membership and Program Vice President at ’s Sisterhood. “So this is very appropriate to have at this time so we can be proud to be free and thankful that we are free.”
Michele Steinmetz, Co-President of the Sisterhood of East Meadow Jewish Center, said that it is essential to never forget the Holocaust and suggested that everyone see the movie Defiance to learn more about the event.
“For Jews and non-Jews,” Steinmetz added. “I think it is just as important that we realize our history, that non-Jews – that everybody – watch this type of thing.”