Embracing Extraordinary Stories of Hope and Resolve in the Shoah: the Bielski Partisans and the Novogrodok Labor Camp Tunnel Escape

Embracing Extraordinary Stories of Hope and Resolve in the Shoah: the Bielski Partisans and the Novogrodok Labor Camp Tunnel Escape

Thursday, July 11
New York 1pm EDT / California 10am PDT / UK 6pm / Israel 8pm / Belarus 8pm

These are difficult times. Since October 7, 2023, the date of the barbaric attack of Hamas on Israel and the ensuing war, virulent opposition to Israel along with waves of antisemitism have spread the world over. Israelis, as well as many Jews around the world are being challenged with dangers and situations that were unthinkable for decades. In times like this, when our lives have been turned upside down, we need to open to and embrace stories of hope to strengthen our resolve, sense of purpose and inspiration.

Join us for a reflection on these two relatively under-explored, inter-related and incredible stories of courage, hope and perseverance that transpired during the Holocaust in what is today Western Belarus, which still boggle the mind eight decades later.

The Bielski partisan group was one of the most significant organized Jewish resistance operations in World War II, and most likely the largest and most successful effort of Jews saving Jews during the Holocaust; over 1200 Jews were saved by the Bielski brothers and others against all odds. According to soon-to-be published research of Dr. Batya Cohen, (Cohen, B., The Tunnel of Hope, 2024), the Novogrudok labor camp tunnel escape, on September 26, 1943, is likely the most successful prisoner escape of the Holocaust era. It is estimated that there were between 240 and 250 escapees, with at least 133 survivors- 108 of them who joined the Bielski Partisans.

Exploring courageous choices under existential threats
• How did these persecuted Jews manage to take fate into their hands, to prevail and rise in such incomprehensible survival situations?
• What helped them find the courage and seize hope?
• What drove the leaders of the Bieslki partisans and tunnel escape to take responsibility to do what they did?
• Why did others follow them, amidst the great perils to their lives and those around them?

We will explore these questions in our session and also introduce an exciting program to be launched later this year, called the “Existential Retreat”: an intensive program in which participants will be invited to engage deeply with these stories, to reflect on this legacy of hope and resolve in the Holocaust, as well as explore how such questions appear in their own lives and “lived experience”:

• How do we find hope when we come up against adversity?
• How do we make meaningful choices in our own lives and what guides them?
• How do our values impact how we view and live our lives?
• What is the meaning of “Holocaust Legacy” to us, and how does it manifest in our lives?
• Dr. Viktor Frankl, the famed psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, the author of the iconic book Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. “
What can we learn from these Holocaust stories of hope and resolve through the lens of Viktor Frankl’s words?
• How can lessons learned from this history transform us today, so that we may be the “best version of ourselves”, to honor our own growth in life as well as that of our families, communities and society at large?

The “Existential Retreat” program is a unique approach to engaging with Holocaust legacy both in a historical and personal growth manner. The possibility of an in-person retreat is also being considered.

Join us in a special event that will attempt to bring the “legacy of hope and resolve” to the areas of darkness which surround us at this time.

“Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future.”- Eli Wiesel

Ronnie Dunetz
Recently, at age 64, Ronnie received his Doctorate of Philosophy in Wisdom Studies with the dissertation on Reflections of children of Holocaust survivors in their second half of life on their life experience. For Ronnie it was the culmination of years of interest and exploration in his life, informed by the story of his father, Mordechai Dunetz, and his aunt, Fanya Brodsky, lone survivors of their family who survived the massacres, labor camp and Partisans in Belarus during the Shoah. Ronnie was born and raised in the US and has made Israel his home for over the last 3 decades. He has been senior-level life and career coach, group and workshop facilitator for more than 20 years, with a specialization in the area of “harvesting one’s wisdom in the second half of life”. More recently, Ronnie has trained and has focused on “logotherapy”, (meaning-based therapy), developed by Dr. Viktor Frankl, the renowned psychiatrist, philosopher, Holocaust survivor and author of the well-known book, Man’s Search for Meaning. He tries to keep what his late father taught him at all times: “Life is precious, we must do the best with it.” His website is : https://www.wisdom-opportunity.com.

Tamara Vershitskaya
Tamara Vershitskaya is a researcher, translator, founder of the Museum of Jewish Resistance (JRM) in Novogrudok, Belarus, and author of ‘Pain and Anger. Holocaust and Resistance in Novogrudok’ (Minsk, 2019). In 2007 Tamara created a permanent exhibition on the former ghetto site called ‘Jewish Resistance Museum’ telling two stories of the most successful Jewish resistance in the Nazi occupied Europe. One of them – the story of the Bielski partisans – is widely known thanks to a Hollywood movie ‘Defiance’. Ever since the JRM has been gradually developing into a Memorial Museum with an indoor and outdoor exhibition, two very special Gardens, a Memorial Wall and preserved fragments of the tunnel built by the ghetto prisoners.
Tamara’s new project – a Living Memorial to the Bielski partisans – was inspired by recently organised reunions of survivors and their descendants. She’s currently consulting Sarah Turk Turkenicz, an architect from Toronto, on her PhD thesis focused on creating a Memorial at the Bielski camp site in the Naliboki Forest, known as Jerusalem in the Woods.

This is a free event – but any donations are welcomed and will be attributed to research and development of our Jewish cultural heritage route through Belarus – a community capacity building initiative.

Book tickets:


11 Jul 2024


6:00 pm