Exclusive to The Zelman Partisans
During the Second World War, a variety of partisan groups arose in the territories occupied by Nazi Germany. In the East, Poland, the Ukraine and Byelorussia, and into Russia itself, some of these partisan organizations were partially or primarily composed of Jews who had fled German attempts to concentrate them into ghettos or who had fled the ghettos themselves. One of these was made famous by the movie Defiance, starring Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski, the leader of this partisan group. This fictionalized account of the Bielski Otryad, which hid in the Nabiloka forest in what is now western Byelorussia I found compelling, and it awoke an ongoing interest in the history of the partisan groups that arose from the German invasion.
These groups varied considerably, as one might expect. Some were comprised of mainly young more or less healthy males, and geared towards military action against the Germans. Other groups, such as the Bielski Otryad, were more inclusive, taking in any Jew that wished to join, regardless of their fitness or prior employment. I was impressed at the survival of Bielski’s group in the face of both anti-semitism from the Soviets and ongoing attacks from the Germans, but I found it surprising to learn that partisan groups composed almost exclusively of young strong males, dedicated to fighting the Germans and resisting the invaders, fared much worse than groups like the Bielski Otryad whose members had widely varied backgrounds, and whose primary goal was survival.
Most of those young fit men died and their groups were wiped out, while the Bielski Otryad survived the war, growing even as the Nazis chased them through the Nabiloka forest. Some of the Bielski Otryad members died during the war, but when they were met by advancing Russian troops, they numbered 1200 Jews, the largest number of Jews saved by Jews during the war. Two of the three Bielski brothers (Tuvia and Zus; Asael was killed in 1944 fighting for the Soviets) survived also, traveling to Israel and ultimately emigrating to these presently united States in 1956.
It appears that there were two key factors at play; one was that the primary goal of the Bielski Otryad was not to kill Germans, but to help Jews survive. The other was that even deep in the taiga, there was survival value in having a wide range of skills available to the group. A wide range of outlook, experience and opinion allowed the group to better cope when conditions or circumstances changed.
There is a lesson in this for the Liberty Movement.
Today, I see a wide range of opinion about the path forward for individual freedom. Many of those espousing these various opinions bitterly attack others in the Liberty movement for their ‘impure’ or ‘imperfect’ ideas, or slather acid criticism on those who disagree in one particular or another. Topics ranging from the ideal caliber for pistols or rifles to whether or not we need or should have a Constitution and everything in between are viciously debated, and barbed words fly back and forth growing more heated with each exchange.
To what end? Cui Bono?
What is the goal of the Liberty Movement? More personally, what is YOUR goal, in the pursuit of freedom? Each one of you will have to answer that question for yourself, but my goal is: to create a system that allows each person to do as they wish, to speak as they wish, to do with their bodies, their lives and the fruits of their labors as they choose, as long as they grant others the right to do the same. As Enlightenment philosophers put it- Life, liberty and property. If someone who shares this goal with you disagrees with you as to how best to accomplish that, so what? Isn’t the whole point to allow others their otherness? Aren’t we trying to help individual Liberty survive?
Or are we?
Tuvia Bielski made his goal the survival of Jews. He did not cast out the old, the infirm or those whose politics differed from his, and as a result, a community of 1200 Jews, anarchists, socialists, communists and individualists survived the Holocaust. He made a place for a wide range of opinion, and the Jewish community he built in the Nabiloka forest was stronger and more resilient as a result.
There is much to be said for earnest discussions about the paths forward for individual Liberty. This is, after all, a war of ideas. There is no doubt that the American experiment is in trouble and we need to carefully consider how we went wrong, and what must be done to make things better. But are the paths leading to the restoration of American Liberty to be found in the stifling of dissent, or in bitter vituperation among those who agree on the big issues? This country was founded on dissent and disagreement; rather than weakness, it may be our greatest strength.
Put it another way. If this is a war of ideas, and ideas are weapons, don’t we want the forces of tyranny to have to face as many different threats as possible? Don’t we want to see statism attacked on as many fronts as we can manage? Do we want to let the perfect become the enemy of the good?
Tuvia Bielski welcomed Jews of all social classes, ideologies, ages or abilities. They followed different paths through the Nabiloka forest to reach their refuge with other Jews, and this was again, part of their protection. Imagine how easy it would have been for the Nazis to exterminate them all if they had all followed one path. Regardless of how they got there, where they came from, or what baggage they carried, they were all welcomed. As far as I can tell from my reading, Tuvia Bielski only asked that each person work as they could to support the goal of the group, which was to ensure that the Jews survive. And they did. He won.
What is your goal, gentle reader?
Will you be like Tuvia Bielski, and make your goal the survival of Liberty, welcoming and protecting all those who love individual freedom, benefiting from each person’s unique outlook?
Or will you conduct intellectual auto-da-fé against all who disagree with you, seeking to crush disagreement and to force all to goosestep to the truth as you see it?
Do you view differing opinions within the Liberty movement as a threat, or as an opportunity?
I wonder what Tuvia Bielski’s Jewish partisans would say to the enraged ideologues among us?
Can you hear the whispers from the Nabiloka forest?
With regard to all who serve the Light,
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