The triumph of the three Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus and Asael, who fought the Nazis in the deep forests of Belarus and saved 1,200 lives, was unlike anything I had ever read about that dark time. Rather than victims wearing yellow stars, here were fighters in fur chapkas brandishing submachine guns. Instead of helplessness and submission, here were rage and resistance.
I knew of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, yet it seemed to stand alone in the popular imagination as the only moment in which organized opposition took root. Yet I have learned that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the impulse to fight back was everywhere: from the streets of Vilnius to the forests of Bialystok, even unto the concrete slabs of Sobibor and Treblinka, thousands of Jews doing whatever they could, whether seeking refuge in the sheltering woods or recklessly taking up arms against overwhelming odds.
Learning of these defiant acts awakened in me something utterly primitive and deeply personal, a wave of awe, humility and admiration.
And outrage, too. Why, I wondered, had I not known these stories while growing up? Could it be that the necessary commemoration of six million dead had so