Good evening everyone, my name is Jack Borowski. As the son of survivors of the Bielski Partisans, I wanted to introduce you to this film.
I do not want you to think that this is just a Hollywood story.
Tuvia Bielski and his 2 brothers took control in a time when all seemed so hopeless. They had special skills in that they knew the surrounding forest, were strong leaders and had a mission to save Jewish lives- 2 of those lives were my parents.
My parents and their families lived in Novogrudek, a regional town near Minsk.
In 1941, the Germans invaded and established a Ghetto for 10,000 Jews from the surrounding areas.
Near Novogrudek, is the Naliboki forest. This is one of the largest and densest forests in Europe.
If one could escape from the Nazis, and reach the forest, then there was a chance of survival.
A Jewish partisan group, led by Tuvia Bielski was providing a safe haven. All were welcome, women, children and old people. This was in contrast to other partisan units who only took in able bodied men who could fight. Word of their existence soon spread to the ghetto and people dreamed of escaping, knowing there was somewhere to hide.
With 12 others, my mother, Judy, escaped from the ghetto in December 1942. After many days of wandering in the forest, they reached the Bielski partisans. She always told us of seeing Tuvia for the first time.
He was very tall and handsome and rode up to them on a white horse. He put his arm on her shoulder and told her not to worry for he would protect her. They were safe at last.
When the Germans attacked the Bielski camp, the partisans fled through the swamps. While the shells were flying overhead, they all walked shoulder deep through the water. No one was killed by the shelling and she often told us that she did not even catch a cold.
My father, Velvel was still in the ghetto. From the original 10,000 Jews interned, there were only 300 survivors.
In May 1943, realising their fate was sealed, they decided to escape.
A tunnel was dug from their living quarters, 250 meters long, under the barbed wire to the surrounding fields.
After 5 months of digging, the escape was set for the night of 26 September 1943. Although many were killed, 170 reached the forest and the safety of the Bielski partisans.
My parents were reunited.
After nine months of separation, finding each other again seemed truly a miracle. To be in this remarkable Jewish partisan group was a second miracle. Although they lived in fear of German attacks, they lived as free people in control of their own lives.
The partisan camp was a well organised community. My parents told us they established a bakery, a shoemaker, an ammunition hut that made bullets and fixed rifles. They had a tailor service where my father worked. They even established a school, a theatre and a synagogue.
For ten months, my parents, lived with the Bielski partisans until liberated by the Russians in June 1944.
One thousand two hundred Jewish men, women and children walked out of that forest
Here tonight, there are many survivors and their extended families.
I am proud to say that my father Velvel is with us, and he often recounts stories to us about his life in the forest.
Also, we have Zina Bielski. She is the first cousin of Tuvia. Zina escaped from a working group outside the Novogrodek ghetto and survived with the partisans.
In July 2007, my wife, daughter and I were in Novogrudek for the opening of a museum dedicated to the escape from the ghetto. This is situated in the original ghetto living quarters from where the tunnel was dug.
We stood at the re-created opening of the tunnel, and followed the tunnel direction to freedom.
At the dedication, we were with Jews from around the world, including 4 ghetto survivors who lived in the forest with the Beilskis. Also, Robert Bielski, the youngest son of Tuvia was with us.
To be with them and their families and to hear their stories was an uplifting unforgettable experience.
We travelled to the forest, which was quite a distance from the town. We realised that often, only with the help of some sympathetic Christian farmers were many of the Jewish escapes possible.
In the forest we saw the partisan semi underground huts which were similar to the Bielski camp. To stand in them was eerie and to imagine living in them through winter was amazing.
This story depicts the largest all Jewish partisan group consisting of men, women and children. In such horrific times, the Bielskis gave them pride, hope and ultimately their survival. There is no doubt that there are many thousands of Jews all over the world alive today as a direct result of those who were saved.
This is the Bielski legacy.
My parents, Judy and Velvel Borowski together with their 7 siblings are testament to this.