For Mr. Velvel Borowski, 94, Edward Zwick's Defiance – Gold,” Mr Borowski clarifies, “If you had Gold, Bielski would know. He needed the money to buy medication.” During these months there was a typhous epidemic yet everyone who came into the forest was kept alive. “The hospital was for everyone,” Mr Borowski retells now. “Only one boy aged (between) 18 or 20 died. No one else.”
“The partisan camp was a well organised community,” says Mr Borowski's son, Jack who translates between English and Yiddish when necessary. “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, which actually had a Sefer Torah from the town of Lida. Feeding this ever-growing community was a constant problem. Food gathering parties were sent out to the surrounding villages and farms to obtain food. Often it was traded, other times stolen.”
In June 1944, the Russian Army liberated the Bielski Partisans. 1200 Jewish men, women and children walked out of the dense Naliboki forest that had protected them. With the war still going, the Russian Army was looking to conscript “every able-bodied man,” Jack translates for his father. “They wanted a list from Bielski but he didn't want to give them a list. He told everyone to disperse.”
Mr Borowski was conscripted and worked as a tailor for the Russian Army until 1946 where his final station was outside Vladivostok, in close proximity to the Chinese-Russian border. “I was everywhere with a needle,” he says, with a laugh that reflects the warmth and strength and luck at the heart of these stories. With his wife Judy and baby daughter, he arrived in Australia in 1949.
With thanks to Velvel and Jack Borowski, who made the writing of this article possible.