During World War II, a man named Tuvia Bielski, along with his brothers Zus and Asael, were called up to serve in a military unit to fight against Nazi Germany. Just as their units were being assembled, the Luftwaffe flew over and decimated their town. As they scrambled to regroup, they were ordered to assemble in the woods about 5 kilometers away. So they did. And as they did, another wave of planes flew over and dropped more incendiary bombs on the forest setting it on fire. When they finally caught up with their commander, he told them they were on their own. Grabbing their other brother, Aron, they fled to a small village in western Belarus where their parents lived.
Not long after, the Nazis made their way through the village rounding up Jews to move them to a ghetto in Nowogrodek. The brothers managed to escape into the nearby woods where they remained elusive. After a few months had passed, the Nazis murdered the rest of their family including their parents, two of their other brothers, and many of their extended family, wives and children included. Defiantly, the brothers remained in the woods and as they moved about, they began to encounter other Jews who were hiding. So they banded together and provided them with protection, shelter, and food. Over time, the group began to grow and their reputation started to spread.
Their efforts, despite all the odds, all the heartache, all the suffering, ended up saving over 1,200 Jewish lives. So astonishing was their story, Hollywood produced a film about them starring Daniel Craig.
Unknown facial expression study, by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783), is a marble sculpture of the artist's own face, and one in a series of busts meant to catalog "canonical grimaces". I've featured Messerschmidt before and mainly because his incredible attention to detail is, for lack of a better term, mesmerizing. Other than seeing a human make this very expression, I feel the only artist in history to ever be able to capture the very essence of an expression in pure detail is Messerschmidt. Bold statement, I know, but just look!
Just like The Vexed Man, the labored efforts to capture this particular emotion is almost frightening too real. In animation, I can picture kids in the store or on a playground who refuse to obey their parents or teachers. In adulthood, I see the look of a heart that refuses to let injustice, evil, or oppression prevail. I like the latter much more than the former. It's speaks to a time when this was the heart of a birthing nation, the heart of warriors in the heat of battle, the heart of explorers seeking to map the earth, the heart of inventors who were told it couldn't be done. And it's worrisome to me that inside my own heart, I wrestle with which picture to behold despite knowing which I appreciate the most. They flip-flop back and forth thanks to the taint of today's selfish, bombastic society, and my love of history, art, and success against the odds.
I picked the story of the Jewish brothers not just because of the film, but also to highlight the word defiance. Our world has too much of the adolescent appeal with millions of individuals feeling entitled, wrestling with low self-esteem, and clinging to rampant, unappeased ideology. They stare at others with the animated version in their hearts. Sadly, their version of defiance will fail and lead to further emptiness. Whereas, those who step up to do what's right and stare in the face of evil will find triumph regardless of outcome because their defiance is not unlike the kind our forefathers had when this nation was borne; theirs is not unlike the concerted efforts of soldiers who face horrific enemies who use women and children as bombs; theirs is not unlike those who took to uncharted seas to find new worlds; theirs is not unlike the researchers, scientists, and doctors who cured polio, fight to treat cancer, and save lives that would otherwise find death if it weren't for their tenacious expertise. Again, I like the latter much more.