Bielski’s son attacks Polish massacre ‘lies’

By Dana Gloger, August 15, 2008

The son of a legendary wartime partisan on whom a new Hollywood film is based has spoken out against allegations in the Polish press branding the partisans "murderers and thieves".

Robert Bielski's father Tuvia led 1,230 Jews through the Belarusian forest after escaping Nazi-occupied Poland, and built a secret village there.

Now his story has been made into a film based on Nechama Tec's book Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Produced by Edward Zwick, it stars James Bond actor Daniel Craig as Bielski as well as Billy Elliot actor Jamie Bell.

In anticipation of its release, a national Polish newspaper has made claims that the resistance fighters had murdered Polish civilians and stolen from them.

An article in Gazeta Wyborcza alleged that the Bielski-led unit was "involved in the massacre of 128 civilians by a Soviet partisan unit in the village of Naliboki in May 1943".

But New York-based Robert Bielski this week strongly rejected the allegations. "The historical facts show that the Bielski group was not even in Naliboki at the time - they only reached the area in August 1943. In May [when the Polish civilians were killed] my father's group was 50 kilometres away, so would not have been able to get there," he said.

Although Mr Bielski admitted that the allegations in the Polish press were "disappointing", he said they did not tarnish his father's memory.

"There is now a film about what he did. It shows the world who he was. He saved 1,200 Jews and there are now 10,000 descendants of those Jews around the world. He was a modern-day Moses and I am very proud of him. The film is a wonderful portrayal of what he and the other partisans did."

The film, Defiance, due to be released in December, is already garnering praise from Hollywood insiders who say it is Oscar material.

A London-based Holocaust survivor who was in Bielski's unit, and who was an adviser to the film-makers, also dismissed the allegations in the Polish newspaper.

Jack Kagan, 79, who lives in Hampstead, North-West London, said: "Since I am a Bielski survivor, I can categorically state that it is a fabricated lie.

"It is very upsetting and a terrible accusation. There were Jews in every Russian detachment. I'm not saying Jews did not participate in killings, but the Bielski group was not in Naliboki and not involved with those killings. They are just trying to tarnish his memory."

He added: "When we escaped from the camps and joined the partisans, we were most scared of the locals, more even than of the Germans. Now they have the cheek to say we were the murderers."

A recent investigation by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance on the events in Naliboki noted that some accounts placed Bielski's group at the scene.

But it added that these accounts had not been verified and were therefore "merely one of the versions of the investigated case".

Meanwhile, Israel's Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem this week said that it was becoming increasingly concerned about investigations undertaken by Lithuanian authorities to try to prosecute former Jewish partisan fighters.

Last updated: 2:34pm, August 14 2008