Friday 26 April 2013

Unsung Heroes: The Bielski brothers, Bushcraft and World War II

There must be so many untold stories of heroism from World War II. The movie Schindler's List, based on a book written in 1982, brought attention to the story of one man who was responsible for saving the lives of more than a thousand Jews during the Holocaust. More recently the story of the Bielski Brothers - Tuvia, Asael and Zus, has been uncovered and told in book and film.

 In June 1941 Hitler's armies invaded Russia in what was known as Operation Barbarossa, and quickly advanced to the city of Novogrudek in Western Belarus where they began to impose regulations to control the Jewish population and set up the Novogrudek ghetto.
The parents of the Bielski brothers and other family members were killed by the Nazis at this time and the three brothers being alerted by their young brother, acted quickly to find safe hiding places for their remaining relatives.
As the intentions of the Nazis became clear the brothers became increasingly worried about the safety of their relatives and they decided to move everyone into the puschas or dense forests of Belarus. Tuvia at the age of thirty-six years became the leader of the group:

'We cannot simply hide ourselves,' he said. 'We must do something for our people. We must send people to the ghetto to save Jews.'

Having grown up in a farming community the brothers were familiar with the surrounding forest and the skills needed to survive in such a place, and for two and a half years the brothers not only evaded the Nazis but waged a guerilla war against their enemies whilst caring for the very young and elderly members of their community. They established workshops and a school, and provided a 'Jerusalem in the woods' for other Jews fleeing from persecution.

In 1944 the Red Army overran the Germans forcing them to retreat back to Berlin. Within a few days of the news of the retreat more than one thousand Bielski Jews emerged triumphant from the forests. It was the largest World War II rescue of Jews by fellow Jews. The three brothers saved as many Jews in World War II as Oskar Schindler besides killing hundreds of enemy soldiers but they never received recognition or honour during their lifetime.

I'd never heard of the Bielski Brothers and was quite ignorant about Belarus. For those of us who grew up while the former USSR was in existence, countries such as this one were just part of a great big melting pot. I mean, did you ever hear of Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan before the 1990's?
I found out about the brothers by accident when BB brought home a DVD he'd found at the library. Defiance was the title and we watched it with our 18 year old who is doing some readings from AO Year 11 (20th Century) while he is doing an electrical course.

 It's bleak, violent and contains coarse language - what you'd expect from a movie about war, but I thought it was done quite well. We didn't let our 16 year old watch it but I talked with him and our younger ones about the story and then I found a video online in which Ray Sears, an English woodsman, travels to the Belorussian forests and demonstrates the various bushcraft techniques the community used to survive during their time there. This would be suitable and of interest for about age 10 or 12 and up. It includes some historical clips and interviews with residents of the area and the connection of history with bushcraft (nature study) was inspiring and something I enjoyed sharing with my boys.
Update: a news article about the Bielski descendants and their view of the movie.

Also see (with thanks to the person who commented below) 

'The brothers' daring deed never gave them in their lifetime the sort of recognition that today we regularly bestow on far lesser men. It pained Tuvia......that he was never honoured by the world beyond the group of forest survivors and their children. He was ideally suited to lead desperate people through the forests of Belarus, but he lacked a gift for self-promotion, for pithy sound bites or fluid prose.'  (Peter Duffy)

To all the unsung heroes out there - war veterans, people quietly living out their lives being gracious, kind, magnanimous, faithful, serving others; to those of old age who can only reflect on their little acts of everyday heroism performed in the past; to those being persecuted for their faith....I salute you!

Tuesday 23 April 2013

April Nature Study - Reptiles, Rodents & Randoms

(Quotes taken from The Handbook of Nature Study) I didn't think the Outdoor Hour Challenge for this month - Reptiles & Amphibians - was going to work for us. We haven't been able to find any tadpoles but on a bush walk earlier this month we came across a goanna, or I should say he came across us. We quickly made way for this one as we all have memories of Grandad's encounter with a goanna who mistook him for a tree and ran up his leg. Take a look at his claws!

There are five families of Australian lizards. The Goanna family (Varanidae) also known as monitors or iguanas, is the family with the largest lizards, and they can grow to about 2.5m or 8 feet. Their tongues are long and forked, a bit like a snake's, and they are skilled at climbing trees. This particular goanna is a common goanna or Lace Monitor (Varanus varius) and is found from Cape York in Northern Queensland all the way around  Eastern Australia, to the eastern part of South Australia.

One of my goals for nature study this year has been to get out in the bush for a good walk on a regular basis. This particular day was on the weekend so there were nine of us which made for a bit of fun.

'Nature study is for the comprehension of the individual life of the bird, insect, or plant that is nearest at hand.'

'Nature-study is an effort to make the individual use his senses instead of losing them; to train him to keep his eyes open to all things so that his powers of discrimination shall be based on wisdom.'

Australian wildflower - I think it is a Crowea Saligna which belongs to the Boronia family

Water views along the walk

'Nature-study is science brought home.'

Back on the home front.....a beetle our youngest found in some water at a fountain outside our local shopping centre and brought home

A contribution from the feline member of the family.....sorry, it's dead

I get a buzz from propagating plants. This one started off with a piece this size....

And about once a year it flowers spectacularly. It is a type of tropical cactus: Schlumbergera or Zygocactus
Also known as Crab's claw

'It is not years which make people old; it is ruts and a limitation of interests. When we no longer care about anything except our own interests, we are then old, it matters not whether our our years be twenty or eighty.'

Homemade: Laundry Liquid & Relish

I was getting fed up seeing dirty white streaks all over the washing each time I used commercial laundry detergents and I also noticed that the powdered detergent I was buying had stuff in it which looked liked some sort of filler so I made my own.
This was so easy & took only a short amount of time that I'll continue making it. I like to know my time is well spent and I'm not just making more work for myself so I try to be careful about being too 'do it yourself,' as much as I dream of being wonder woman.

I used this recipe here. I'll just add that I use a pot solely for this purpose and use 1 cup of the liquid per load as I have a large capacity machine and I always have mega amounts of washing. The Reader's Digest book Back to Basics is also a good resource for homemade articles of all sorts.

A lady from church used to make this relish and sell it with other goods to help provide some income for an orphange overseas. She had to stop production about a year ago and my husband kept saying I should get the recipe from her as we couldn't find a relish that was tomato based and didn't have fruit in it.

I have a genetic aversion to following recipes and must adjust everything so didn't put as much sugar in as the recipe asked for and I used palm sugar from the Asian supermarket - about $1.95 for 500 grams. This altered the taste a little but no one complained. You can delete the cornflour but it will take longer to thicken.

Tangy Tomato Relish

3kg tomatoes                                          1 kg onions
1 kg sugar                                                  1.5L vinegar
2 Tabs curry                                              1 Tabs cayenne
2 Tabs mustard                                       2 Tabs salt
1 Tabs turmeric                                      cornflour to thicken

Blend tomatoes and onion in food processor or cut up finely
Place in boiler with sugar and most of vinegar (reserve some for spices
and thickening)
Boil, adding blended spices and boil till thick
                           Thicken with blended cornflour if necessary.

** Double spices for Extra Tangy or Rajkot Relish

Many thanks to Hazel!
  Update: I forgot to add that I sterilised the jars & metal lids first, of course, and then put  the still hot relish into the still hot, dried in the oven jars and then sealed them firmly.

Sunday 7 April 2013

The Place of Fiction and the Moral Imagination

Recently I've been re-reading a few books I first read years ago, one of them being, 'Children of a Greater God' by Terry W. Glaspey which was written in 1995.

The book speaks about awakening your child's moral imagination, creating a clear understanding in their hearts and minds of the beauty and importance of moral living, and imparting the ability to perceive the truth in literature, the arts, and the natural world.

'Moral imagination is the ability to think clearly and creatively in the realm of moral values, especially when faced with a situation where rules do not suffice.'

He looks at virtues and the place of habits, the importance of the arts and instilling the art of reading - things that many of us have thought about, believe to be important and have already begun to put into practice - but he gives compelling reasons why these things are important. A common occurrence in families, especially with highschool age children, is that the 'optional extras' eg. the study of art, poetry, and music, gives way under the weight of the 'more necessary or expedient' subjects or time constraints. This book helps to give a vision for their inclusion and their appreciation.

The dangers of theological ignorance, the marks of a Christian mind and suggestions for building a Christian worldview are other areas he covers in this book. The book is very readable and practical and a good introduction to this area.

Now to some other authors:

An article I read last week, Why Christians Should Read Fiction led me to look into another article in which Russell Kirk wrote about the 'expression of the moral imagination.' The writing is quite scholarly and some of it was lost on me but it reminded me of the book above and I thought about some of the fiction I've read and how it contributed to my understanding of human nature.

'.... the end of great books is ethical—to teach us what it means to be genuinely human......
Until very recent years, men took it for granted that literature exists to form the normative consciousness—that is, to teach human beings their true nature, their dignity, and their place in the scheme of things.'   

I've just finished reading Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, a stark, bitter novel written in 1911 and barely a hundred pages in length. Ethan, a young man in an unhappy relationship with a sickly, suspicious wife, dreams of a new life with his wife's cousin who has been living with them. When their desires are thwarted and they have to part, the two of them take a course of action which condemns all three to a wretched and pitiful existence together.

Ethan Frome really did have a tragic life that he sort of fell into in many ways. Throughout the story I found myself sympathising with his situation, wishing for him to find a way out of his misery and to have an opportunity to start afresh. I understood his behaviour was morally wrong and why, but it wasn't until the tragic consequences of his actions were culminated that I felt a moral awakening.

In contrast to Ethan Frome the situation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre revealed a very different response to circumstances which were just as painful although somewhat different. Jane finds love, appreciation and happiness for the first time in her difficult life and is about to be married. Standing at the altar with Mr. Rochester, the man she loves, their wedding is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a third party who reveals that Rochester is already married, albeit to a mad woman. Jane resolves to tear herself away and as Rochester passionately pleads with her and her emotions battle for supremacy she declares:

‘I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?’

Contrasting these two stories, the emotions they evoke and the ultimate resolution of their individual moral dilemmas revealed to me the power of fiction to help awaken the moral imagination. To have a moral foundation already in place is only the beginning. We need to know that this foundation is going to be solid in times when our emotions are trying to lead us, and the power of a story can help us look at life from different aspects, not in just black and white. As author Flannery O'Connor stated, 'A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way.'

 'If a public will not have the moral imagination, I have been saying, then it will fall first to the idyllic imagination; and presently into the diabolic imagination—this last becoming a state of narcosis, figuratively and literally.'  (Russell Kirk)