Book Review: Heroism in the Forest: The Jewish Partisans of Belarus

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Heroism in the Forest: The Jewish Partisans of Belarus is a book about one of the least told aspects World War II in the East, The Partisan fight against the Nazis.  Specifically, the struggle of Jewish partisans in Belarus who not only had to deal with the Nazi menace but often had as much to fear from non-Jewish Russians as they did from the Nazis.

The partisan fighting in Russia is a little known aspect of WWII, and the part played by Russian Jews is even more obscure.  This book only covers events in Belorussian and not Russia as a whole but is illuminating nonetheless.  What I found most interesting, though not surprising, was the frank detailing of the amount of Antisemitism faced by the Jews from their fellow Russian partisans.  Many people forget that Germany has not had a historical monopoly on antisemitism, it has been a favorite pastime of most Europeans throughout the centuries.

If anyone has seen the movie Defiance with Daniel Craig then you are at least familiar with part of the story of the Bielski brothers that raised a partisan battalion during the war.  This work includes a more detailed description of the fight of those brothers than to be found in the film including testimony from members of the Bielski Battalion.  It also discusses in some depth the daily grind of living in the Nazi established ghettos and the lengths many Jews went to in order to resist.

The book is 183 pages of text divided into four thematic sections and includes a bibliography and index.  Originally published in Hebrew there are inevitably several minor translation errors but they do not detract from the overall narrative.  Th text is rather dry at times as is usual in a scholarly work.

If you have never heard of the partisan war against Germany on the Eastern Front or are under the mistaken impression that most European Jews went meekly to their fate in WWII then I highly recommend this book as an avenue to increase your understanding of the fight of the Jews and the odds and barriers they faced not just from the Nazis but from their fellow Russians.  This is an informative book that draws on testimony from survivors to bring the urgency and difficulty of the Jewish fight for survival in WWII alive.

1 thought on “Book Review: Heroism in the Forest: The Jewish Partisans of Belarus”

  1. Hi Patrick,

    I loved the film, Defiance. this book looks as if it uncovers another of those hidden aspects of WWII, a bit like my study of the women who worked in the Wehrmacht.

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