Defiance (2008)

Director: Edward Zwick

Time: 137 minutes. Color.

In the wake of the German conquest of Belorussia in the summer of 1941, most of the native Jewish population was either murdered outright or marked for death. This powerful film, based upon Nechama Tec’s acclaimed book of the same name, traces the story of a remarkable band of Jewish resistance fighters, led by the intrepid Tuvia Bielski (played by Daniel Craig), who managed to remain alive and free throughout the Nazi occupation.

The film does have its stock moments, as when an impractical intellectual redeems himself in battle. Yet these are far outweighed by its realistic and historically accurate elements. The Lithuanian forest where it was shot looks much like Belorussia. The indigenous anti-Semitism, which the Bielski partisans contended with as well as the Nazi variety, is faithfully portrayed, as is the often sketchy cooperation between the Jewish fighters and Red Army partisans. The German use of air power, in cooperation with army, SS, and police units in antipartisan operations, is especially well re-created.

This is not primarily a combat film, although there are many gripping battle scenes. It is a moving story of a community seeking to preserve its identity, values, culture, and existence under ghastly conditions.


Originally published in the May 2009 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here