Israel Defense Force (IDF)

Grandson of famous Jewish WWII partisans makes resistance meaningful today

NEW YORK — For Matthew Bielski his saba and savta (grandfather and grandmother) were nothing short of modern day Maccabees.

As the grandson of Jewish partisans Sonia and Zus Bielski, Mattthew Bielski, 33, frequently heard stories about surviving frigid winters deep in the Nalibaki forest, in northwestern Belarus. He also heard about what it was like to rise up and kill Nazis — lots of Nazis.

That’s because his grandparents were part of the legendary Bielski brigade, led by brothers Zus (Alexander), Tuvia, Asael and Aron. All told, the group rescued more than 1,200 Jews from extermination during World War II.

“Stories of survival and fighting back. Stories of revenge and killing. These were the stories I heard growing up at backyard barbecues and bar mitzvahs. My grandmother would say, ‘He killed a lot of Nazis.’ But I also remember sitting on his [Zus’s] lap and him smelling like a cigar. He was very loving and he definitely inspired me,” Bielski said.

As he grew older he realized his family’s stories differed from those heard by most of his peers — particularly if their family perished in ghettos or German extermination camps. He also realized Jews worldwide, people he had never met, had a stake in his family’s story.

And so a few years ago, Bielski got involved with the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation as co-chair of a special third generation committee that collects the stories of the adult grandchildren of partisans.

On Sunday November 5, the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, JPEF, honored him for his work.

“It’s not just a Bielski thing. It is inspirational to me to keep the story alive, for people to know how Jewish partisans rose up against the Nazis, and that we can do it again,” he said.

JPEF also honored Elliott Felson, son and nephew of partisans Don and Stan Felson. As JPEF board president, Felson has also worked to incorporate the role of partisans in Holocaust education.

Read More: Times of Israel