Ed Zwick’s ‘Defiance’ Sparks Protests in Poland

The Jewish resistance film “Defiance” starring Daniel Craig has provoked a wave of protest in Poland. It is being booed in cinemas and accused of distorting history, according to The Guardian.

Although locals recognize the fact that the Bielski brothers formed an armed resistance against the Nazis and saved 1200 Jews from certain death, there is a widespread perception that they were also violent towards Polish locals. Nationalists, in particular, continue to believe that the Bielski brothers colluded with Soviet partisans in a 1943 attack on the village of Naliboki in which 128 people were killed. This, “despite historical investigations that have exonerated them,” as the article states.

Adding fuel to the fire is the Polish media, who view the Bielskis more as thugs and bandits than resistance heroes. The conservative newspaper Rzecpospolita ever so bluntly stated that the Bielski brothers raped and murdered during their efforts to obtain food for their forest hideout.

Whether these accusations are fact or fiction, the Bielski brothers were clear in their mission: they were battling a large, powerful and brutal enemy, they could trust no one, and their only aim—no matter the cost—was to save their own from Nazi death camps. The morality of going into their war, I think is justified. Maintaining morality once you’re at war is certainly harder to come by.

From The Guardian:

Opponents say in its telling of the true story of the four Bielski brothers who fled the Nazis and set up a kibbutz-style secret village with hundreds of followers in a forest in what was then part of Poland, the filmmakers have, in true Hollywood style, simplified the facts, mythologised the group and omitted to address accusations that they ill-treated Polish locals and the underground home army.

The most scathing attack, which has led to charges that anti-Semitism is the driving force behind the criticism of the film, appeared in the conservative daily Rzecpospolita.

In a leader column the paper wrote: “The Jewish groups were not squeamish when it came to procuring food. They turned to pillaging, murder and rape.” The newspaper said that while it was understandable that the film succeeded in challenging the cliche that Holocaust victims largely “went to their death like sheep to the slaughter”, director Zwick had mistakenly “put on a pedestal a man who was bandit and hero rolled into one”, referring to the group’s leader, Tuvia Bielski.

The liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has also made clear its disapproval of the film’s lionisation of the Bielski brothers. While clearing them of involvement in Naliboki, two of its reporters, who unfavourably depict Tuvia Bielski as a drunk and a womaniser, came up with evidence suggesting he took part in a joint operation with the Soviets to wipe out Polish anti-communist units and that he helped lead the Soviets to the whereabouts of a Polish underground leader.