Friday, January 23, 2009

Defiance: "Our revenge... is to live!"

I love action movies, but nothing is better than a good action flick that's based on a true story--which is why I've always had a soft spot in my heart for movies like the Great Escape and Apollo 13 (and hey, even Domino and First Blood).

So I'm excited to see Defiance, which has an almost literally incredible true story as its inspiration: The movie follows four Jewish brothers and how they fought back against the Nazis during WWII. There were many Jews in similar situations who simply fought the Germans head-to-head (guerrilla-style or by teaming up with the Red Army), but the eldest Bielski brother--played in the movie by Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond--decides that survival is the best weapon. They set out to save as many fellow Jews as they can, and by the end of the war they amazingly manage to build an armed community in the forests of Belarus with over 1200 people.

Now, this Web site isn't called Guys Movie Wire, so I'm sure you're wondering where's the book in all of this? The movie was based on a rigorous written history called Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, which recounts how the group survived against such long odds. The movie's director, Edward Zwick, wrote the foreword to the new edition--which you can read online--and he describes how it got him inspired:

To read of the Bielski brothers and their fight to create a safe haven in the midst of a hell-on-earth evokes in me something utterly primitive and deeply personal, a roiling wave of fear, awe, humility, and admiration. And outrage, too--that such a story was not better known. Here, clutching captured Schmeisser submachine guns and “potato-masher” grenades, were Jewish fighters whose deeds were as stirring and brave as any I had ever encountered.

So check out the movie--and the book! (And even the movie's informative Web site.) And if you're looking for another action-packed, true story, watch the Oscar-winning Glory, also directed by Zwick, about the first all-black volunteer company in the U.S. Civil War. The books behind that movie were One Gallant Rush, Lay This Laurel, and the letters of Robert Gould Shaw.


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Your description of this book/movie reminds me of another book I read a while back, "The Avengers: A Jewish War Story". It's a non-fiction book about a group of young Jews fighting back against the Germans. Among other things, I was amazed to learn that they attempted to poison German troops and civilians on a massive scale - these Jews were determined to get back at the Nazis.

Paul Hughes said...

Wow, that sounds amazing, too. I'm surprised I never learned more about stories like that. You should definitely read the foreword by Edward Zwick to the book, because he talks about how frustrating it was growing up Jewish and never knowing those stories, to always see John Wayne and Gregory Peck kicking butt in war movies but to never see Jewish fighters.

As he says " see Jewish men and women standing shoulder to shoulder in the snowy woods, brandishing automatic weapons in their own defense, flies in the face of the most pernicious oversimplification of the Holocaust—one that minimizes the impulse of its victims to resist. And it is this impulse that Nechama Tec details with such ferocious clarity. Indeed, as contemporary scholarship has now revealed, resistance in fact found its expression in almost every city, town, and shtetl in Eastern Europe over which the shadows of extermination had fallen."