Bielski partisans, a resistance group fighting the Nazis from the forests of Eastern Europe, saved approximately 1200 Jews in Belarus during the Second World War. Later, Edward Zwick directed a movie “Defiance,” 2008 war film about Bielski brothers, who set up a camp for Jews fleeing the Holocaust. The film starts Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski, the leader of the Bielski group.
Since the release of the movie the descendants of those who managed to escape in 1943 have been coming to the Novogrodek, which used to be part of Poland and was turned into a ghetto for more than 30,000 Jews, in commemoration of their parents and grandparents. Novogrodek reportedly had had a thriving Jewish population of more than a half of the towns’ inhabitants before it was occupied by Nazis.
On September 26, 1943, 350 men and women escaped through the underground tunnel, which was dug with spoons and their own hands, into the woods, where they later joined the Bielski partisans.
One of those who survived was mother of American multi-billionaire Charles Kushner, whose son Jared Kushner is now a husband for Ivanka Trump, which makes him the US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law. Charles Kushner first visited Novogrodek back in 1989 with his mother Rae Kushner.
“We are alive, and this is a miracle. We survived in camps, in the ghetto, in the woods … There were almost 200 people in our family, and only I, my father, one sister and two cousins, survived,” recalled Rae in one of the interviews.
Rae Kushner moved to the US from the USSR with her husband Joseph, both Jewish Holocaust survivors, in 1949.
Kushners then came to Novogrudok with Jack Kagan, one of the escape participants who grew up in Novogrodek and helped to open the Museum of Jewish Resistance in 2007. Later Charles Kushner donated $36,000 for constructions of a memorial sign, called a ‘Memorial Wall,’ which was supposed to be opened on the 75th anniversary of the escape of prisoners from the ghetto, yet was opened during the reunion of the Bielski partisans’ descendants on July 8-9, 2019. The memorial is about 15 meters long, featuring names of those who escaped.
Aron Bielski, the youngest among Bielski brothers, also arrived at the reunion.
“Our main task was to save people. One of my brothers said that it is better to save 10 Jewish women than to kill a German. Yes, in times like these, we had to kill. It was very scary. Nevertheless, the story of the Bielski unit and the escape from the Novogrudok ghetto is a hymn to life, no matter how tragic it was,” he said.
Natalia Veselnitskaya – official website