The Bielski Brothers

The Bielski Brothers (historical background)

The Jewish partisan group around Tuvia Bielski (1941-1944)

(For information about Roman Kroke’s project on this topic, please click the menus right from the white arrow)

This true story is about Tuvia Bielski and his two brothers Asael and Zus who decide not to go into the ghettos established by the Nazis but to hide in the forests of (todays) Belarus in order to organize a partisan group.

As more and more refugees joined the Bielskis, their forest dwelling eventually turned into an all-out village — complete with a mill, bakery, bathhouse, medical units, tannery, school, synagogue, and even a theater and a jail. At the same time the group lead a guerilla-war against the Nazi-German occupants and their collaborators. However, the partisan leader Tuvia Bielski often declared that he would “rather save one old Jewish woman than kill 10 Nazis.” The group survives the holocaust and lead what historians believe to be the largest armed rescue of Jews by Jews during World War II. When they are finally liberated in 1944, their community numbers more than 1200 people.

This historic event received broad international attention through the movie Defiance (2008) by Edward Zwick, with Daniel Craig portraying the Jewish partisan commander Tuvia Bielski.

Further information:



Duffy, Peter:  The Bielski Brothers:  The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Buildt a Village in the Forest and Saved 1,200 Jews. Harper Perennial, 2004.

Kagan, Jack:  Novogrudok:  The History of a Shtetl.  Mitchell, Valentine, and Company, 2006.

Tec, Nechama:  Defiance:  The Bielski Partisans.  Oxford University Press, USA, 2008.

Illustrations & Reserach-Travels (2010/2011)

As part of the research for his Bielski-Illustrations, Roman Kroke travelled for two weeks through Belarus during April/May 2010, sponsored by the Bielski-Family-Foundation and the Goethe-Institute Belarus. He visited historic sites, interviewed contemporary witnesses and met with scientific researchers specializing in the Jewish partisan movement. He continued this research during a second stay in Belarus one year later, when he visited Belarus as part of a film project (coordinated by André Bossuroy). Special thanks to Tamara Vershitskaya, Director of the Museum of History and Regional Studies in Novogrudok, for her help in organizing the stays.

In March 2011, Roman Kroke travelled to London where he interviewed Jack (Idel) Kagan (1929-2016). At the age of fourteen Idel had been one of the 120 Jews who managed to escape from the labour-camp in Novogrudok through a self-made tunnel and joined the Bielski partisans in the forest. On occasion of the meeting with Jack, Roman gave to him a metaphorical drawing which he had created on the basis of his biography.

On the basis of his artistic research Roman Kroke has realized,in cooperation with schools, universities, museums, foundations etc.: