One of the prevailing images of the Holocaust is of Jews passively lining up to be sent into gas chambers. While the people who made the feature film "Defiance" insist that they aren't trying to take anything away from the horrors of the concentration camps, they also think that it's time to tell another part of the story, that of the Jews who fought back by creating a guerrilla army that pestered the Nazis by sabotaging train tracks, blowing up ammunition depots and staging daring rescues.

The movie, which opens Friday, is based on a true story that director Edward Zwick stumbled upon while reading obits in the New York Times. Zwick, a history buff with a penchant for making war movies -- his civil war epic "Glory" won three Oscars, including a best supporting actor award for Denzel Washington -- knew he had hit on something he wanted to pursue: a fact-based war story.

"The obit told a story about a man and his brothers who had fought back against the Nazis," he said in a phone interview. They were the Bielski brothers, four Jewish Poles who escaped the German takeover of their rural hometown and, after briefly joining with a Soviet troop, formed their own partisan army, a group that eventually grew to more than 1,200.

He discovered that the brothers' story was the subject of a book by noted Holocaust scholar Nechama Tec, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut. Zwick bought the movie rights to the book, "Defiance: The Bielski Partisans."

The book had all the facts he needed, but Zwick, who wrote the script himself, wanted more insight into the emotional aspects of the story. Many -- if not most -- of the partisans had seen the Nazis capture or kill their families.

"I finally tracked down 18 surviving partisans," he said. "And I found some of the Bielskis' sons."

Zwick doesn't know why the story had not been told before, but it may be due to the general reticence of World War II vets. "Even the Bielski sons were very hesitant to talk to me at first," he said.

He's glad that the story finally is getting the attention it deserves.

"This is such an inspiring and uplifting story," he said. "I worry about the partisans [he interviewed]. They were so jubilant that their story finally is being told. I just want to get it right."

A leader, at last

After 3 1/2 years of self-direction, Darchei Noam Congregation in St. Louis Park has hired a part-time rabbi. Beginning with the evening service on Friday and continuing with events throughout next weekend, Rabbi Joseph Ozarowski will spend one weekend a month at the Orthodox synagogue.

"It's a big step for us," said spokesman Allan Baumgarten. "We've been a lay-driven congregation, which is not unusual for a new synagogue, but we have reached the point where we need a rabbi to advise us."

The congregation started with 30 families in 2005 and is up to 55 households now. It rents worship space in the classrooms at St. George's Episcopal Church, 5224 Minnetonka Blvd., but has bought land just a few blocks away with the hope of building its own facility.

Ozarowski is rabbinic chaplain to the Jewish Healing Network of Chicago. Rather than regularly scheduled visits, they will be arranged according to the congregation's needs, including holidays and bar and bat mitzvahs.

Mothers' days

The third annual Faith Lift for Mom will take place Friday and next Saturday, with two busy days -- hey, these are moms; they're used to hectic schedules -- of workshops and speakers.

Sponsored by the Marriage, Family and Life Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the conference takes place at Holy Spirit Church, 515 Albert St., St. Paul. The $50 fee includes lunch on Saturday.

Keynote speakers include retired archbishop the Rev. Harry Flynn, author and Twin Cities resident Mary Ann Kuharski and training expert Paul Bernabei. Workshop topics include marriage, parenting and faith and spirituality.

For more information or to register, go to

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392