Monday, February 15, 2010

The Bielski Brothers - Peter Duffy

As I am rarely satisfied with one perspective on a topic, I read a second history of the Bielski brothers - this one by a non-Jewish American.

This book was an easier read than the Nechama Tec history, in that it was more chronological.  I was impressed at the level of research that Peter Duffy performed to write the book - it captures a little more detail in some areas than Tec's book.

The conclusions are more pointed - by the time the war ended, there were very few Jews joining up with Bielski's unit, simply because they were all gone, destroyed.  It is indeed a sad chapter in human history.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Defiance by Nechama Tec

No way around it - this book was extremely fascinating.

The image is from the movie that Edward Zwick made with Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski.  I first saw the movie, and then I was unable to resist getting the book.

There are many shortcomings in the movie, but it was well done.  When you have to boil down the essential elements of a highly documented and researched historical work, you just can't do it justice.

The basic storyline is set in Belorussia/Poland when the Germans invaded in 1941.  Jewish population in this region was reduced by 90% during the several years of World War II.  This is about a group of Jews that resisted, fled into the forest, built a village, and had as their primary mission to save Jews.  They were very imperfect people (who isn't?) but I was fascinated by their humanity and their reaction to the situation in which they found themselves.

At war's end, over 1200 Jews walked out of the forest together under the leadership of three brothers - Tuvia, Zus, and Asael Bielski.  Today the descendants of the people they saved number in the tens of thousands.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hundred in the Hand - Joseph Marshall III

I had a great time reading a historical novel by a Lakota - Hundred in the Hand tells the story of the Fetterman Massacre from the perspective of the native American.

A lot of controversy surrounds the events of the Fetterman Massacre - perhaps the most argued issue is whether or not Crazy Horse was present.  To the Lakota, there is no question.  This was the place where he truly became a great symbol in the eyes of his people.

I read another book by Marshall a year ago - it was a biography entitled The Journey of Crazy Horse.  I truly enjoyed the effort it took to see things from a different perspective than the one we get in our typical history books.  History is always written by the winners...and so it is possibly not very objective.

Although God clearly had a hand in the westward expansion in America, a lot of really ugly human characteristics were made manifest in the treatment of the native Americans.  There was a lot of greed and ambition, and there was sometimes a thirst for blood, especially among former fighters in the Civil War.  It is also difficult to understand the historical bigotry and racism that existed amongst many who came west.  I am describing a general problem associated with the human condition throughout the history of the world - a lack of respect for differences and a closed mind when faced with diversity.

I do understand that many migrants experienced hardship and suffering at the hands of native Americans, but it is important to consider the many reasons why the natives responded to the westward expansion the way that they did.  It is also important to understand that they experienced many broken promises from the white people along the way and therefore lost trust in them.

I am not so much of a pragmatist to think that growth and efficiency must always be best, and I am not so much of a Darwinist to think that it was simply good for the stronger people to prevail.  I appreciate Mr. Marshall's writing, and I recommend it to others...enjoy!