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July 4: Lovers among the Partisans

July 4, 2013

99534On this date in 1941, twenty-two-year-old Chaya Dzienciolski took the pistol that her lover, Asael Bielski, had bought her as an engagement present and fled from her village of Nowogrodek, where the Nazis had already executed a hundred Jews — fifty who had volunteered to form a Jewish Council at the behest of the Nazis, and fifty at random — since sweeping in three days earlier. After several days in hiding, she brought Bielski out of the nearby village of Lida. Eventually they were able to smuggle her parents out of Nowogrodek, as well as Bielski’s sister and her boyfriend. This formed the core group of the family camp of the Bielski partisan community — 300 male fighters, 1,000 women, children, and elderly people — in the forests of Belarus/Poland (as portrayed in the 2008 film Defiance). After the USSR reconquered the region, Asael was drafted into the Red Army and was killed in battle in 1945. He never lived to see his daughter Assaela, the child he fathered with Chaya, who survived the war (in the above photo of survivors of the Bielski camp, she is the woman furthest on the left, directly above another seated woman).

“The guiding philosophy of Tuvia Bielski and other leaders of the Jewish resistance was that all Jews must be protected. Saving Jews superseded taking revenge against the Germans. Women, children and the elderly were accepted in the unit, including Jewish refugees who had fled other partisan units or the ghettos. The younger men in the unit took incredible risks on food missions to assure that everyone in the unit would have food.” —Jewish Virtual Library