Set to release Jan. 16, “Defiance,” starring James Bond star Daniel Craig, tells the story of the three Bielski brothers who escaped Nazi-occupied Poland and became resistance fighters during World War II. The movie is based on the book, also by the same name, by Nachema Tech.
For a couple of Pittsburgh families, the movie will be more than just entertainment, it will retell the story of one family member.
Alan Reznik of Squirrel Hill and Ray Gusky of Monroeville are second cousins of Moshe Reznik, a lieutenant in the Bielski resistance.
Although the movie “Defiance” never mentions Moshe, they are able to connect with the movie knowing their cousin served alongside the Bielski brothers and their resistance group.
“They literally fought against the Nazis,” Gusky said. “They were guerrilla fighters. Everywhere they could sabotage, blow up stuff or kill Nazis they did. That’s how they got their supplies.
“When I first saw the trailer for the movie the hair raised up on my arms,” he continued. “I was proud that we had a person in our family that resisted and fought.”
Gusky remembers his family constantly talking about their brave cousin who battled back against the Nazis.
“When I was a little boy, we had always heard the stories from my aunts and uncles,” he said. “Almost from the time I was born there was always conversation at the dinner table.”
In 1939, Moshe was in the Polish cavalry fighting the invading Nazis. Three years later, while living in Belarus with his wife and daughter, the Nazis rounded them up and sent them to a ghetto in Novogrudek. Since Moshe was a young male, his life was spared and he was sent to work.
His wife, daughter and other family members were not so lucky. On Nov. 26, 1942, Gusky believes nearly 24 members of his family were killed by the Nazis.
Moshe caught a lucky break while on work detail, allowing him to escape and flee into the forest.
“There was a German soldier that knew his (Moshe’s) father before the war,” Alan said. “He helped him get out. He did break out and he fled to the forest where the Bielskis were.”
A valuable asset to the Bielskis, Moshe became a lieutenant for the resistance group.
“He had fought the Germans previously, and knew how to ride the horse so he was pretty valuable,” Alan said. “He also had revenge on his mind.”
Moshe was in charge of going into towns and collecting food for the 300 to 400 people living in the Bielski camp. During his missions, Moshe would engage in combat.
“His job was to get food from towns and kill people who tried to turn him and the others in,” Alan said.
After the war, Moshe moved with his wife Bila, who he met in the Bielski camp, to Israel, where Alan first met him in 1959.
“He was very quiet, he worked for the government printing office in Israel,” Alan said. “He didn’t talk much about WWII at all. You would have never thought that this guy had done what he did. He was a very quiet guy.”
Moshe had contact with Tuvia Bielski, the leader of the three brothers, just one more time when Tuvia was writing his memoirs and needed help recalling some of the events of the war.
Moshe died in 1991; today, his wife Bila still lives in Jaffa. While the movie might not mention Moshe’s bravery, Ray and Alan know their cousin risked his life to fight the Nazis and save hundreds of Jews.
(Mike Zoller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)