Overall Impression – An illuminating look at the tensions present amongst a totally displaced people.    


Who’s your main character? – Tuvia Bielski.

What’s he trying to accomplish? – Professional: lead the Jewish survivors to safety.  Personal: keep his brothers together, as a family.  Private: hold onto the will to fight.

Who’s trying to stop him? – The Nazis, Tuvia’s brother by questioning his leadership, Tuvia’s own self-doubts, and conflicts amongst the survivors.

What happens if he fails? – Tuvia and the survivors will die.


Orphan – When the Nazis begin their persecution of the Jews, Tuvia and his two brothers lose not only their parents and homes, but their place in society.   They flee into the wilderness to avoid being caught and killed.

Wanderer – When the brothers encounter other Jewish survivors, they agree to take them under their protection, necessitating raids on local farms for food and supplies.  Before long, Tuvia avenges his parents by murdering the local police chief responsible for their deaths, and the brothers begin attacking the Nazis in earnest.  However, resulting Jewish casualties cause Tuvia to reconsider this approach, which opens up a conflict between him and his brother, Zus: do they defy the Nazis by killing them, or by surviving in the forest? 

Warrior – Everyone becomes a warrior of some form: Zus joins a company of Soviet partisans to take the fight to the Nazis.  Tuvia becomes the true leader of the survivors and they start rebuilding their lives, taking on new roles for the survival of the group and training to fight.  All of this is done in the face of sickness, a deadly winter and an ever-nearing enemy.  When the Nazis finally discover their position, everybody puts their skills to the test in the final fight for survival.

Martyr – During their escape from the Nazis, Tuvia loses hope when they encounter a seemingly impassable marsh.  Tuvia’s youngest brother, Asael, inspires hope by being willing to risk almost certain death to cross it, believing that they can overcome anything if they work together.


I enjoyed the movie, but felt the third act wasn’t as powerful as it could have been.  That isn’t to say the final fight against the Nazis wasn’t awesome, or that the action was lacking in any way.  For me, it’s that the crossing of the marsh made for a weak MARTYR element, which diminished what followed.  

First – the marsh just didn’t seem hard enough as an obstacle, and it felt less insurmountable than some of the challenges they’d already faced.

Second – was there really a choice here?  In the circumstances, who wouldn’t choose a marsh over a squad of murderous Nazis?  I was unconvinced that this moment was powerful enough to restore Tuvia’s will to fight and survive.

Third – during the final fight, Tuvia and one of his men are pinned under fire behind some trees.  Tuvia’s man finds a grenade and runs at a firing squad, getting shot two steps into his attack.  Clearly he was willing to die fighting rather than be hunted down, but if that mentality and determination is present, was crossing the marsh really something to lose faith about?

I suppose the biggest point this raises for me is the ordering of obstacles in terms of difficulty, and how these obstacles operate.  I took away more from the failed grenade run than the marsh crossing, which I don’t think was the intent.

                                                                                           – Dan Pilditch

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